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Understanding How Good People Turn Evil 

Philip Zimbardo 


Copyright © 2007 by Philip G. Zimbardo, Inc. 
All rights reserved. 

Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of 
The Random House Publishing Group, a division of 
Random House, Inc., New York. 

RANDOM HOUSE and colophon are registered trademarks 
of Random House, Inc. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Zimbardo, Philip G. 
The lucifer effect: understanding how good people turn evil / 
Philip Zimbardo. — 1st ed. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN 978-1-4000-641 1-3 (hardcover: alk. paper) 
1. Good and evil — Psychological aspects. I. Title. 
BF789.E94Z56 2007 
155.9'62— dc22 

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 
First Edition 

Book design by Mercedes Everett 

Dedicated to the serene heroine of my life, 
Christina Maslach Zimbardo 


I wish I could say that writing this book was a labor of love; it was not that for a 
single moment of the two years it took to complete. First of all, it was emotionally 
painful to review all of the videotapes from the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) 
and to read over and over the typescripts prepared from them. Time had dimmed 
my memory of the extent of creative evil in which many of the guards engaged, 
the extent of the suffering of many of the prisoners, and the extent of my pas- 
sivity in allowing the abuses to continue for as long as I did — an evil of inaction. 

I had also forgotten that the first part of this book was actually begun thirty 
years ago under contract from a different publisher. However, I quit shortly after 
beginning to write because I was not ready to relive the experience while I was still 
so close to it. I am glad that I did not hang in and force myself to continue writing 
then because this is the right time. Now I am wiser and able to bring a more ma- 
ture perspective to this complex task. Further, the parallels between the abuses at 
Abu Ghraib and the events in the SPE have given our Stanford prison experience 
added validity, which in turn sheds light on the psychological dynamics that con- 
tributed to creating horrific abuses in that real prison. 

A second emotionally draining obstacle to writing was becoming personally 
and intensely involved in fully researching the Abu Ghraib abuses and tortures. 
As an expert witness for one of the MP prison guards, I became more like an in- 
vestigative reporter than a social psychologist. I worked at uncovering everything 
I could about this young man, from intensive interviews with him and conversa- 
tions and correspondence with his family members to checking on his back- 
ground in corrections and in the military, as well as with other military personnel 
who had served in that dungeon. I came to feel what it was like to walk in his boots 
on the Tier 1 A night shift from 4 P.M. to 4 A.M. every single night for forty nights 
without a break. 

As an expert witness testifying at his trial to the situational forces that con- 



tributed to the specific abuses he had perpetrated, I was given access to all of the 
many hundreds of digitally documented images of depravity. That was an ugly 
and unwelcomed task. In addition, I was provided with all of the then-available 
reports from various military and civilian investigating committees. Because I 
was told that I would not be allowed to bring detailed notes to the trial, I had to 
memorize as many of their critical features and conclusions as I could. That cog- 
nitive challenge added to the terrific emotional strain that arose after Sergeant 
Ivan "Chip" Frederick was given a harsh sentence and I became an informal psy- 
chological counselor for him and his wife, Martha. Over time, I became, for them, 
"Uncle Phil." 

I was doubly frustrated and angry, first by the military's unwillingness to ac- 
cept any of the many mitigating circumstances I had detailed that had directly 
contributed to his abusive behavior and should have reduced his harsh prison 
sentence. The prosecutor and judge refused to consider any idea that situational 
forces could influence individual behavior. Theirs was the standard individualism 
conception that is shared by most people in our culture. It is the idea that the fault 
was entirely "dispositional," the consequence of Sergeant Chip Fredericks freely 
chosen rational decision to engage in evil. Added to my distress was the realiza- 
tion that many of the "independent" investigative reports clearly laid the blame 
for the abuses at the feet of senior officers and on their dysfunctional or "absentee 
landlord" leadership. These reports, chaired by generals and former high-ranking 
government officials, made evident that the military and civilian chain of com- 
mand had built a "bad barrel" in which a bunch of good soldiers became trans- 
formed into "bad apples." 

Had I written this book shortly after the end of the Stanford Prison Experiment, 
I would have been content to detail the ways in which situational forces are more 
powerful than we think, or that we acknowledge, in shaping our behavior in 
many contexts. However, I would have missed the big picture, the bigger power for 
creating evil out of good — that of the System, the complex of powerful forces that 
create the Situation. A large body of evidence in social psychology supports the 
concept that situational power triumphs over individual power in given contexts. 
I refer to that evidence in several chapters. However, most psychologists have 
been insensitive to the deeper sources of power that inhere in the political, eco- 
nomic, religious, historic, and cultural matrix that defines situations and gives 
them legitimate or illegitimate existence. A full understanding of the dynamics of 
human behavior requires that we recognize the extent and limits of personal 
power, situational power, and systemic power. 

Changing or preventing undesirable behavior of individuals or groups re- 
quires an understanding of what strengths, virtues, and vulnerabilities they 
bring into a given situation. Then, we need to recognize more fully the complex of 
situational forces that are operative in given behavioral settings. Modifying them, 
or learning to avoid them, can have a greater impact on reducing undesirable in- 



dividual reactions than remedial actions directed only at changing the people in 
the situation. That means adopting a public health approach in place of the stan- 
dard medical model approach to curing individual ills and wrongs. However, un- 
less we become sensitive to the real power of the System, which is invariably 
hidden behind a veil of secrecy, and fully understand its own set of rules and regu- 
lations, behavioral change will be transient and situational change illusory. 
Throughout this book, I repeat the mantra that attempting to understand the 
situational and systemic contributions to any individual's behavior does not ex- 
cuse the person or absolve him or her from responsibility in engaging in immoral, 
illegal, or evil deeds. 

In reflecting on the reasons that I have spent much of my professional career 
studying the psychology of evil — of violence, anonymity, aggression, vandalism, 
torture, and terrorism — I must also consider the situational formative force act- 
ing upon me. Growing up in poverty in the South Bronx, New York City, ghetto 
shaped much of my outlook on life and my priorities. Urban ghetto life is all about 
surviving by developing useful "street-smart" strategies. That means figuring out 
who has power that can be used against you or to help you, whom to avoid, and 
with whom you should ingratiate yourself. It means deciphering subtle situa- 
tional cues for when to bet and when to fold, creating reciprocal obligations, and 
determining what it takes to make the transition from follower to leader. 

In those days, before heroin and cocaine hit the Bronx, ghetto life was about 
people without possessions, about kids whose most precious resource in the ab- 
sence of toys and technologies was other kids to play with. Some of these kids be- 
came victims or perpetrators of violence; some kids I thought were good ended up 
doing some really bad things. Sometimes it was apparent what the catalyst was. 
For instance, consider Donny's father, who punished him for any perceived 
wrongdoing by stripping him naked and making him kneel on rice kernels in the 
bathtub. This "father as torturer" was at other times charming, especially around 
the ladies who lived in the tenement. As a young teenager, Donny, broken by that 
experience, ended up in prison. Another kid took out his frustrations by skinning 
cats alive. As part of the gang initiation process we all had to steal, fight against 
another kid, do some daring deeds, and intimidate girls and Jewish kids going to 
synagogue. None of this was ever considered evil or even bad; it was merely obey- 
ing the group leader and conforming to the norms of the gang. 

For us kids systemic power resided in the big bad janitors who kicked you off 
their stoops and the heartless landlords who could evict whole families by getting 
the authorities to cart their belongings onto the street for failure to pay the rent. I 
still feel for their public shame. But our worst enemy was the police, who would 
swoop down on us as we played stickball in the streets (with a broomstick bat and 
Spalding rubber ball). Without offering any reason, they would confiscate our 
stickball bats and force us to stop playing in the street. Since there was not a play- 
ground within a mile of where we lived, streets were all we had, and there was lit- 



tie danger posed to citizens by our pink rubber ball. I recall a time when we hid the 
bats as the police approached, but the cops singled me out to spill the beans as to 
their location. When I refused, one cop said he would arrest me and as he pushed 
me into his squad car my head smashed against the door. After that, I never 
trusted grown-ups in uniform until proven otherwise. 

With such rearing, all in the absence of any parental oversight — because in 
those days kids and parents never mixed on the streets — it is obvious where my 
curiosity about human nature came from, especially its darker side. Thus, The Lu- 
cifer Effect has been incubating in me for many years, from my ghetto sandbox 
days through my formal training in psychological science, and has led me to ask 
big questions and answer them with empirical evidence. 

The structure of this book is somewhat unusual. It starts off with an opening 
chapter that outlines the theme of the transformation of human character, of 
good people and angels turning to do bad things, even evil, devilish things. It 
raises the fundamental question of how well we really know ourselves, how con- 
fident we can be in predicting what we would or would not do in situations we 
have never before encountered. Could we, like God's favorite angel, Lucifer, ever 
be led into the temptation to do the unthinkable to others? 

The segment of chapters on the Stanford Prison Experiment unfolds in great 
detail as our extended case study of the transformation of individual college stu- 
dents as they play the randomly assigned roles of prisoner or guard in a mock 
prison — that became all too real. The chapter-by-chapter chronology is presented 
in a cinematic format, as a personal narrative told in the present tense with mini- 
mal psychological interpretation. Only after that study concludes — it had to be 
terminated prematurely — do we consider what we learned from it, describe and 
explain the evidence gathered from it, and elaborate upon the psychological 
processes that were involved in it. 

One of the dominant conclusions of the Stanford Prison Experiment is that 
the pervasive yet subtle power of a host of situational variables can dominate an 
individual's will to resist. That conclusion is given greater depth in a series of 
chapters detailing this phenomenon across a body of social science research. We 
see how a range of research participants — other college student subjects and 
average citizen volunteers alike — have come to conform, comply, obey, and be 
readily seduced into doing things they could not imagine doing when they were 
outside those situational force fields. A set of dynamic psychological processes is 
outlined that can induce good people to do evil, among them deindividuation, 
obedience to authority, passivity in the face of threats, self-justification, and ratio- 
nalization. Dehumanization is one of the central processes in the transformation 
of ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of evil. 
Dehumanization is like a cortical cataract that clouds one's thinking and fosters 
the perception that other people are less than human. It makes some people come 
to see those others as enemies deserving of torment, torture, and annihilation. 



With this set of analytical tools at our disposal, we turn to reflect upon the 
causes of the horrendous abuses and torture of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib 
Prison by the U.S. Military Police guarding them. The allegation that these im- 
moral deeds were the sadistic work of a few rogue soldiers, so-called bad apples, is 
challenged by examining the parallels that exist in the situational forces and psy- 
chological processes that operated in that prison with those in our Stanford 
prison. We examine in depth, the Place, the Person, and the Situation to draw 
conclusions about the causative forces involved in creating the abusive behaviors 
that are depicted in the revolting set of "trophy photos" taken by the soldiers in 
the process of tormenting their prisoners. 

However, it is then time to go up the explanatory chain from person to situa- 
tion to system. Relying on a half dozen of the investigative reports into these 
abuses and other evidence from a variety of human rights and legal sources, I 
adopt a prosecutorial stance to put the System on trial. Using the limits of our 
legal system, which demands that individuals and not situations or systems be 
tried for wrongdoing, I bring charges against a quartet of senior military officers 
and then extend the argument for command complicity to the civilian command 
structure within the Bush administration. The reader, as juror, will decide if the 
evidence supports the finding of guilty as charged for each of the accused. 

This rather grim journey into the heart and mind of darkness is turned 
around in the final chapter. It is time for some good news about human nature, 
about what we as individuals can do to challenge situational and systemic power. 
In all the research cited and in our real-world examples, there were always some 
individuals who resisted, who did not yield to temptation. What delivered them 
from evil was not some inherent magical goodness but rather, more likely, an un- 
derstanding, however intuitive, of mental and social tactics of resistance. I out- 
line a set of such strategies and tactics to help anyone be more able to resist 
unwanted social influence. This advice is based on a combination of my own ex- 
periences and the wisdom of my social psychological colleagues who are experts 
in the domains of influence and persuasion. (It is supplemented and expanded 
upon in a module available on the website for this book, . 

Finally, when most give in and few rebel, the rebels can be considered heroes 
for resisting the powerful forces toward compliance, conformity, and obedience. 
We have come to think of our heroes as special, set apart from us ordinary mor- 
tals by their daring deeds or lifelong sacrifices. Here we recognize that such special 
individuals do exist, but that they are the exception among the ranks of heroes, 
the few who make such sacrifices. They are a special breed who organize their 
lives around a humanitarian cause, for example. By contrast, most others we rec- 
ognize as heroes are heroes of the moment, of the situation, who act decisively 
when the call to service is sounded. So, The Lucifer Effect journey ends on a positive 
note by celebrating the ordinary hero who lives within each of us. In contrast to 
the "banality of evil," which posits that ordinary people can be responsible for the 



most despicable acts of cruelty and degradation of their fellows, I posit the "ba- 
nality of heroism," which unfurls the banner of the heroic Everyman and Every- 
woman who heed the call to service to humanity when their time comes to act. 
When that bell rings, they will know that it rings for them. It sounds a call to up- 
hold what is best in human nature that rises above the powerful pressures of 
Situation and System as the profound assertion of human dignity opposing evil. 


This book would not have been possible without a great deal of help at every stage 
along the long journey from conception to its realization in this final form. 


It all began with the planning, execution, and analysis of the experiment we did 
at Stanford University back in August 1971. The immediate impetus for this re- 
search came out of an undergraduate class project on the psychology of impris- 
onment, headed by David Jaffe, who later became the warden in our Stanford 
Prison Experiment. In preparation for conducting this experiment, and to better 
understand the mentality of prisoners and correctional staff, as well as to explore 
what were the critical features in the psychological nature of any prison experi- 
ence, I taught a summer school course at Stanford University covering these top- 
ics. My co-instructor was Andrew Carlo Prescott, who had recently been paroled 
from a series of long confinements in California prisons. Carlo came to serve as an 
invaluable consultant and dynamic head of our 'Adult Authority Parole Board." 
Two graduate students, William Curtis Banks and Craig Haney, were fully en- 
gaged at every stage in the production of this unusual research project. Craig has 
used this experience as a springboard into a most successful career in psychology 
and law, becoming a leading advocate for prisoner rights and authoring a number 
of articles and chapters with me on various topics related to the institution of 
prisons. I thank them each for their contribution to that study and its intellectual 
and practical aftermath. In addition, my appreciation goes to each of those col- 
lege students who volunteered for an experience that, decades later, some of them 
still cannot forget. As I also say in the text, I apologize to them again for any suf- 
fering they endured during and following this research. 


Preface ix 
Acknowledgments xv 
List of Illustrations xxi 


The Psychology of Evil: Situated Character 

Transformations 3 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 23 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 40 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 57 

Tuesday's Double Trouble: Visitors and Rioters 80 


Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 2 00 


The Power to Parole 130 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 254 

Friday's Fade to Black 2 74 


The SPE's Meaning and Messages: The Alchemy of Character 
Transformations 295 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 229 



Investigating Social Dynamics: Power, Conformity, 

and Obedience 258 


Investigating Social Dynamics: Deindividuation, 

Dehumanization, and the Evil of Inaction 297 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures: Understanding and 

Personalizing Its Horrors 324 


Putting the System on Trial: Command Complicity 380 

Resisting Situational Influences and Celebrating Heroism 444 

Notes 491 
Index 535 


List of Illustrations 

1. M. C. Escher's illusion of angels and devils 2 

2. Police arresting student prisoner 34 

3. Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) guard in uniform 41 

4. SPE prisoners lined up for their frequent counts 43 

5. SPE grievance committee meets with Superintendent Zimbardo 66 

6. SPE's Yard in action 81 

7. SPE prisoner suffers an emotional breakdown 107 

8. SPE hooded, chained prisoners await hearings with the Parole Board 131 

9. SPE naked prisoner in his cell #3 155 

10. SPE chart comparing behaviors of guards and prisoners (from 

video records) 202 

1 1 . Ad soliciting New Haven adults for Milgram's study of obedience 
(courtesy Alexandra Milgram and Erlbaum Press) 267 

12. "Learner" is attached to shock apparatus in obedience experiment 268 

13. "Teacher" shocks "learner" complying with authority pressure 269 

14. Abu Ghraib Prison: Prisoner pyramid with smiling MP guards 325 

15. Abu Ghraib Prison: MP dragging prisoner on ground with a dog leash 326 

16. Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick proudly holding American flag in Iraq 339 

17. Abu Ghraib prisoners forced to simulate sodomy and to masturbate 356 

18. Unmuzzled Belgian Shepherd Army dogs terrifying naked prisoner 358 

19. Abu Ghraib MP in prison cell with face painted in style of a rock group 365 

20. Chip Frederick with "Hooded Man," the iconic image of torture 369 

2 1 . Chip Frederick sitting on top of prisoner "Shit Boy" 3 70 

22. Abu Ghraib MP posing with murdered "Ghost detainee" on Tier 1A 410 

23. Heroic Chinese student, "Tank Man," facing down Army tanks 463 

24. M. C. Escher's illusion of angels and devils — revisited 489 

. C. Escher's "Circle Limit IV" © 2006 The M. C. Escher Company-Holland. 
All rights reserved, . 


The Psychology of Evil: 

Situated Character Transformations 

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of 
hell, a hell of heaven. 

— John Milton, Paradise Lost 

Look at this remarkable image for a moment. Now close your eyes and conjure it 
in your memory. 

Does your mind's eye see the many white angels dancing about the dark 
heavens? Or do you see the many black demons, horned devils inhabiting the 
bright white space of Hell? In this illusion by the artist M. C. Escher, both perspec- 
tives are equally possible. Once aware of the congruence between good and evil, 
you cannot see only one and not the other. In what follows, 1 will not allow you to 
drift back to the comfortable separation of Your Good and Faultless Side from 
Their Evil and Wicked Side. "Am I capable of evil?" is the question that I want you 
to consider over and over again as we journey together to alien environments. 

Three psychological truths emerge from Escher's image. First, the world is 
filled with both good and evil — was, is, will always be. Second, the barrier be- 
tween good and evil is permeable and nebulous. And third, it is possible for angels 
to become devils and, perhaps more difficult to conceive, for devils to become 

Perhaps this image reminds you of the ultimate transformation of good into 
evil, the metamorphosis of Lucifer into Satan. Lucifer, the "light bearer," was 
God's favorite angel until he challenged God's authority and was cast into Hell 
along with his band of fallen angels. "Better to reign in Hell than serve in 
Heaven," boasts Satan, the "adversary of God" in Milton's Paradise Lost. In Hell, 
Lucifer-Satan becomes a liar, an empty imposter who uses boasts, spears, trum- 
pets, and banners, as some national leaders do today. At the Demonic Conference 
in Hell of all the major demons, Satan is assured that he cannot regain Heaven in 
any direct confrontation.' However, Satan's statesman, Beelzebub, comes up with 
the most evil of solutions in proposing to avenge themselves against God by cor- 
rupting God's greatest creation, humankind. Though Satan succeeds in tempting 
Adam and Eve to disobey God and be led into evil, God decrees that they will in 


The Lucifer Effect 

time be saved. However, for the rest of time, Satan will be allowed to slither 
around that injunction, enlisting witches to tempt people to evil. Satan's interme- 
diaries would thereafter become the target of zealous inquisitors who want to rid 
the world of evil, but their horrific methods would breed a new form of systemic 
evil the world had never before known. 

Lucifer's sin is what thinkers in the Middle Ages called "cupiditas."* For 
Dante, the sins that spring from that root are the most extreme "sins of the wolf," 
the spiritual condition of having an inner black hole so deep within oneself that 
no amount of power or money can ever fill it. For those suffering the mortal 
malady called cupiditas, whatever exists outside of one's self has worth only as it 
can be exploited by, or taken into one's self. In Dante's Hell those guilty of that sin 
are in the ninth circle, frozen in the Lake of Ice. Having cared for nothing but self 
in life, they are encased in icy Self for eternity. By making people focus only on 
oneself in this way, Satan and his followers turn their eyes away from the har- 
mony of love that unites all living creatures. 

The sins of the wolf cause a human being to turn away from grace and to 
make self his only good — and also his prison. In the ninth circle of the Inferno, 
the sinners, possessed of the spirit of the insatiable wolf, are frozen in a self- 
imposed prison where prisoner and guard are fused in an egocentric reality. 

In her scholarly search for the origins of Satan, the historian Elaine Pagels of- 
fers a provocative thesis on the psychological significance of Satan as humanity's 

What fascinates us about Satan is the way he expresses qualities that go 
beyond what we ordinarily recognize as human. Satan evokes more than 
the greed, envy, lust, and anger we identify with our own worst impulses, 
and more than what we call brutality, which imputes to human beings a 
resemblance to animals ("brutes").... Evil, then, at its worst, seems to in- 
volve the supernatural — what we recognize, with a shudder, as the dia- 
bolic inverse of Martin Buber's characterization of God as "wholly other." 3 

We fear evil, but are fascinated by it. We create myths of evil conspiracies and 
come to believe them enough to mobilize forces against them. We reject the 
"Other" as different and dangerous because it's unknown, yet we are thrilled by 

*Cupiditas, in English, is cupidity, which means avarice, greed, the strong desire for wealth or 
power over another. What cupiditas means is the desire to turn into oneself or take into oneself 
everything that is "other" than self. For instance, lust and rape are forms of cupiditas, because 
they entail using another person as a thing to gratify one's own desire; murder for profit is also 
cupiditas. It is the opposite of the concept of caritas, which means envisioning oneself as part of 
a ring of love in which each individual self has worth in itself but also as it relates to every other 
self. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a weak expression of caritas. The 
Latin "Caritas et amor, Deus ibi est" is probably the best expression of the concept "wherever cari- 
tas and love are, God is." 

The Psychology of Evil 


contemplating sexual excess and violations of moral codes by those who are not 
our kind. Professor of religious studies David Frankfurter concludes his search for 
Evil Incarnate by focusing on the social construction of this evil other. 

[T]he construction of the social Other as cannibal-savage, demon, sor- 
cerer, vampire, or an amalgam of them all, draws upon a consistent reper- 
toire of symbols of inversion. The stories we tell about people out on the 
periphery play with their savagery, libertine customs, and monstrosity. 
At the same time, the combined horror and pleasure we derive from con- 
templating this Otherness — sentiments that influenced the brutality of 
colonists, missionaries, and armies entering the lands of those Others — 
certainly affect us at the level of individual fantasy, as well.' 


The Lucifer Effect is my attempt to understand the processes of transformation at 
work when good or ordinary people do bad or evil things. We will deal with the 
fundamental question "What makes people go wrong?" But instead of resorting 
to a traditional religious dualism of good versus evil, of wholesome nature versus 
corrupting nurture, we will look at real people engaged in life's daily tasks, en- 
meshed in doing their jobs, surviving within an often turbulent crucible of 
human nature. We will seek to understand the nature of their character transfor- 
mations when they are faced with powerful situational forces. 

Let's begin with a definition of evil. Mne is a simple, psychologically based 
one: Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehu- 
manize, or destroy innocent others — or using one 's authority and systemic power to en- 
courage or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short, it is "knowing better but 
doing worse." 4 

What makes human behavior work? What determines human thought and 
action? What makes some of us lead moral, righteous lives, while others seem to 
slip easily into immorality and crime? Is what we think about human nature 
based on the assumption that inner determinants guide us up the good paths or 
down the bad ones? Do we give insufficient attention to the outer determinants of 
our thoughts, feelings, and actions? To what extent are we creatures of the situa- 
tion, of the moment, of the mob? And is there anything that anyone has ever 
done that you are absolutely certain you could never be compelled to do? 

Most of us hide behind egocentric biases that generate the illusion that we 
are special. These self-serving protective shields allow us to believe that each of us 
is above average on any test of self-integrity. Too often we look to the stars 
through the thick lens of personal invulnerability when we should also look 
down to the slippery slope beneath our feet. Such egocentric biases are more com- 
monly found in societies that foster independent orientations, such as Euro- 


The Lucifer Effect 

American cultures, and less so in collectivist-oriented societies, such as in Asia, 
Africa, and the Middle East.' 

In the course of our voyage through good and evil, I will ask you to reflect 
upon three issues: How well do you really know yourself, your strengths and 
weaknesses? Does your self-knowledge come from reviewing your behavior in fa- 
miliar situations or from being exposed to totally new settings where your old 
habits are challenged? In the same vein, how well do you really know the people 
with whom you interact daily: your family, friends, co-workers, and lover? One 
thesis of this book is that most of us know ourselves only from our limited experi- 
ences in familiar situations that involve rules, laws, policies, and pressures that 
constrain us. We go to school, to work on vacation, to parties; we pay the bills and 
the taxes, day in and year out. But what happens when we are exposed to totally 
new and unfamiliar settings where our habits don't suffice? You start a new job, 
go on your first computer-matched date, join a fraternity, get arrested, enlist in 
the military, join a cult, or volunteer for an experiment. The old you might not 
work as expected when the ground rules change. 

Throughout our journey I would like you to continually ask the "Me also?" 
question as we encounter various forms of evil. We will examine genocide in 
Rwanda, the mass suicide and murder of Peoples Temple followers in the jungles 
of Guyana, the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, the horrors of Nazi concentra- 
tion camps, the torture by military and civilian police around the world, and the 
sexual abuse of parishioners by Catholic priests, and search for lines of continuity 
between the scandalous, fraudulent behavior of executives at Enron and World- 
Com corporations. Finally, we will see how some common threads in all these 
evils run through the recently uncovered abuses of civilian prisoners at Abu 
Ghraib Prison in Iraq. One especially significant thread tying these atrocities to- 
gether will come out of a body of research in experimental social psychology, par- 
ticularly a study that has come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. 

Evil: Fixed and Within or Mutable and Without? 

The idea that an unbridgeable chasm separates good people from bad people is a 
source of comfort for at least two reasons. First, it creates a binary logic, in which 
Evil is essentialized. Most of us perceive Evil as an entity, a quality that is inherent 
in some people and not in others. Bad seeds ultimately produce bad fruits as their 
destinies unfold. We define evil by pointing to the really bad tyrants in our era, 
such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and other political 
leaders who have orchestrated mass murders. We must also acknowledge the 
more ordinary, lesser evils of drug dealers, rapists, sex-trade traffickers, perpetra- 
tors of fraudulent scams on the elderly, and those whose bullying destroys the 
well-being of our children. 

Upholding a Good-Evil dichotomy also takes "good people" off the responsi- 
bility hook. They are freed from even considering their possible role in creating, 

The Psychology of Evil 


sustaining, perpetuating, or conceding to the conditions that contribute to delin- 
quency, crime, vandalism, teasing, bullying, rape, torture, terror, and violence. 
"It's the way of the world, and there's not much that can be done to change it, cer- 
tainly not by me." 

An alternative conception treats evil in incrementalist terms, as something of 
which we are all capable, depending on circumstances. People may at any time 
possess a particular attribute (say intelligence, pride, honesty, or evil) to a greater 
or lesser degree. Our nature can be changed, whether toward the good or the bad 
side of human nature. The incrementalist view implies an acquisition of qualities 
through experience or concentrated practice, or by means of an external inter- 
vention, such as being offered a special opportunity. In short, we can learn to be- 
come good or evil regardless of our genetic inheritance, personality, or family 

Alternative Understandings: Dispositional, Situational, and Systemic 

Running parallel to this pairing of essentialist and incremental conceptions is the 
contrast between dispositional and situational causes of behavior. When faced with 
some unusual behavior, some unexpected event, some anomaly that doesn't 
make sense, how do we go about trying to understand it? The traditional ap- 
proach has been to identify inherent personal qualities that lead to the action: ge- 
netic makeup, personality traits, character, free will, and other dispositions. Given 
violent behavior, one searches for sadistic personality traits. Given heroic deeds, 
the search is on for genes that predispose toward altruism. 

In the United States, a rash of shootings in which high school students mur- 
der and wound scores of other students and teachers rocks suburban communi- 
ties.' In England, a pair of ten-year-old boys kidnap two-year-old Jamie Bulger 
from a shopping center and brutally murder him in cold blood. In Palestine and 
Iraq, young men and women become suicide bombers. In most European coun- 
tries during World War U, many people protected Jews from capture by the Nazis 
even though they knew that if they were caught, they and their families would be 
killed. In many countries "whistle-blowers" risk personal loss by exposing injus- 
tice and immoral actions of superiors. Why? 

The traditional view (among those who come from cultures that emphasize 
individualism) is to look within for answers — for pathology or heroism. Modern 
psychiatry is dispositionally oriented. So are clinical psychology and personality 
and assessment psychology. Most of our institutions are founded on such a per- 
spective, including law, medicine, and religion. Culpability, illness, and sin, they 
assume, are to be found within the guilty party, the sick person, and the sinner. 
They begin their quest for understanding with the "Who questions": Who is re- 
sponsible? Who caused it? Who gets the blame? and Who gets the credit? 

Social psychologists (such as myself) tend to avoid this rush to dispositional 
judgment when trying to understand the causes of unusual behaviors. They pre- 


The Lucifer Effect 

fer to begin their search for meaning by asking the "What questions": What con- 
ditions could be contributing to certain reactions? What circumstances might be 
involved in generating behavior? What was the situation like from the perspective 
of the actors? Social psychologists ask: To what extent can an individual's actions 
be traced to factors outside the actor, to situational variables and environmental 
processes unique to a given setting? 

The dispositional approach is to the situational as a medical model of health 
is to a public health model. A medical model tries to find the source of the illness, 
disease, or disability within the affected person. By contrast, public health re- 
searchers assume that the vectors of disease transmission come from the environ- 
ment, creating conditions that foster illness. Sometimes the sick person is the end 
product of environmental pathogens, which unless counteracted will affect oth- 
ers, regardless of attempts to improve the health of the individual. For example, in 
the dispositional approach a child who exhibits a learning disability may be given 
a variety of medical and behavioral treatments to overcome that handicap. But in 
many cases, especially among the poor, the problem is caused by ingesting lead in 
paint that flakes off the walls of tenement apartments and is worsened by condi- 
tions of poverty — the situational approach. These alternative perspectives are not 
just abstract variations in conceptual analyses but lead to very different ways of 
dealing with personal and societal problems. 

The significance of such analyses extends to all of us who, as intuitive psy- 
chologists, go about our daily lives trying to figure out why people do what they do 
and how they may be changed to do better. But it is the rare person in an individu- 
alist culture who is not infected with a dispositional bias, always looking first to 
motives, traits, genes, and personal pathologies. Most of us have a tendency both 
to overestimate the importance of dispositional qualities and to underestimate 
the importance of situational qualities when trying to understand the causes of 
other people's behavior. 

In the following chapters I will offer a substantial body of evidence that 
counterbalances the dispositional view of the world and will expand the focus to 
consider how people's character may be transformed by their being immersed in 
situations that unleash powerful situational forces. People and situations are usu- 
ally in a state of dynamic interaction. Although you probably think of yourself as 
having a consistent personality across time and space, that is likely not to be true. 
You are not the same person working alone as you are in a group; in a romantic 
setting versus an educational one; when you are with close friends or in an 
anonymous crowd; or when you are traveling abroad as when at home base. 

The Malleus Maleficarum and the Inquisition's WID Program 

One of the first documented sources of the widespread use of the dispositional 
view to understand evil and rid the world of its pernicious influence is found in a 
text that became the bible of the Inquisition, the Malleus Maleficarum, or "The 

The Psychology of Evil 


Witches' Hammer.'" It was required reading for the Inquisition judges. It begins 
with a conundrum to be solved: How can evil continue to exist in a world gov- 
erned by an all-good, all-powerful God? One answer: God allows it as a test of 
men's souls. Yield to its temptations, go to Hell; resist its temptations, and be in- 
vited into Heaven. However, God restricted the Devil's direct influence over people 
because of his earlier corruption of Adam and Eve. The Devil's solution was to 
have intermediaries do his evil bidding by using witches as his indirect link to peo- 
ple they would corrupt. 

To reduce the spread of evil in Catholic countries, the proposed solution was 
to find and eliminate witches. What was required was a means to identify witches, 
get them to confess to heresy, and then destroy them. The mechanism for witch 
identification and destruction (which in our times might be known as the WID 
program) was simple and direct: find out through spies who among the popula- 
tion were witches, test their witchly natures by getting confessions using various 
torture techniques, and kill those who failed the test. Although I have made light 
of what amounted to a carefully designed system of mass terror, torture, and ex- 
termination of untold thousands of people, this kind of simplistic reduction of the 
complex issues regarding evil fueled the fires of the Inquisition. Making "witches" 
the despised dispositional category provided a ready solution to the problem of 
societal evil by simply destroying as many agents of evil as could be identified, tor- 
tured, and boiled in oil or burned at the stake. 

Given that the Church and its State alliances were run by men, it is no won- 
der that women were more likely than men to be labeled as witches. The suspects 
were usually marginalized or threatening in some way: widowed, poor, ugly, de- 
formed, or in some cases considered too proud and powerful. The terrible paradox 
of the Inquisition is that the ardent and often sincere desire to combat evil gen- 
erated evil on a grander scale than the world had ever seen before. It ushered 
in the use by State and Church of torture devices and tactics that were the ulti- 
mate perversion of any ideal of human perfection. The exquisite nature of the 
human mind, which can create great works of art, science, and philosophy, 
was perverted to engage in acts of "creative cruelty" that were designed to break 
the will. The tools of the trade of the Inquisition are still on display in prisons 
around the world, in military and civilian interrogation centers, where torture is 
standard operating procedure (as we shall see later in our visit to Abu Ghraib 

Power Systems Exert Pervasive Top-Down Dominance 

My appreciation of the power residing in systems started with an awareness of 
how institutions create mechanisms that translate ideology — say, the causes of 
evil — into operating procedures, such as the Inquisition's witch hunts. In other 
words, my focus has widened considerably through a fuller appreciation of the 
ways in which situational conditions are created and shaped by higher-order 


The Lucifer Effect 

factors — systems of power. Systems, not just dispositions and situations, must be 
taken into account in order to understand complex behavior patterns. 

Aberrant, illegal, or immoral behavior by individuals in service professions, 
such as policemen, corrections officers, and soldiers, is typically labeled the mis- 
deeds of "a few bad apples." The implication is that they are a rare exception and 
must be set on one side of the impermeable line between evil and good, with the 
majority of good apples set on the other side. But who is making the distinction? 
Usually it is the guardians of the system, who want to isolate the problem in order 
to deflect attention and blame away from those at the top who may be responsible 
for creating untenable working conditions or for a lack of oversight or supervi- 
sion. Again the bad apple-dispositional view ignores the apple barrel and its po- 
tentially corrupting situational impact on those within it. A systems analysis 
focuses on the barrel makers, on those with the power to design the barrel. 

It is the "power elite," the barrel makers, often working behind the scenes, 
who arrange many of the conditions of life for the rest of us, who must spend time 
in the variety of institutional settings they have constructed. The sociologist 
C. Wright Mills has illuminated this black hole of power: 

The power elite is composed of men whose positions enable them to tran- 
scend the ordinary environments of ordinary men and women; they are 
in positions to make decisions having major consequences. Whether they 
do or do not make such decisions is less important than the fact that they 
do occupy such pivotal positions: their failure to act, their failure to make 
decisions, is itself an act that is often of greater significance than the deci- 
sions they do make. For they are in command of the major hierarchies and 
organizations of modern society. They rule the big corporations. They run 
the machinery of state and claim its prerogatives. They direct the military 
establishment. They occupy strategic command posts of the social struc- 
ture, in which are now centered the effective means of power and the 
wealth and celebrity which they enjoy." 1 

As the interests of these diverse power brokers coalesce, they come to de- 
fine our reality in ways that George Orwell prophesied in 1984. The military- 
corporate -religious complex is the ultimate megasystem controlling much of the 
resources and quality of life of many Americans today. 

It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes 

— Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind 
The Power to Create "The Enemy" 

The powerful don't usually do the dirtiest work themselves, just as Mafia dons 
leave the "whackings" to underlings. Systems create hierarchies of dominance 

The Psychology of Evil 


with influence and communication going down — rarely up — the line. When a 
power elite wants to destroy an enemy nation, it turns to propaganda experts to 
fashion a program of hate. What does it take for the citizens of one society to hate 
the citizens of another society to the degree that they want to segregate them, tor- 
ment them, even kill them? It requires a "hostile imagination," a psychological 
construction embedded deeply in their minds by propaganda that transforms 
those others into "The Enemy." That image is a soldier's most powerful motive, 
one that loads his rifle with ammunition of hate and fear. The image of a dreaded 
enemy threatening one's personal well-being and the society's national security 
emboldens mothers and fathers to send sons to war and empowers governments 
to rearrange priorities to turn plowshares into swords of destruction. 

It is all done with words and images. To modify an old adage: Sticks and 
stones may break your bones, but names can sometimes kill you. The process be- 
gins with creating stereotyped conceptions of the other, dehumanized percep- 
tions of the other, the other as worthless, the other as all-powerful, the other as 
demonic, the other as an abstract monster, the other as a fundamental threat to 
our cherished values and beliefs. With public fear notched up and the enemy 
threat imminent, reasonable people act irrationally, independent people act in 
mindless conformity, and peaceful people act as warriors. Dramatic visual images 
of the enemy on posters, television, magazine covers, movies, and the Internet 
imprint on the recesses of the limbic system, the primitive brain, with the power- 
ful emotions of fear and hate. 

The social philosopher Sam Keen brilliantly depicts how this hostile imagina- 
tion is created by virtually every nation's propaganda on its path to war and reveals 
the transformative powers on the human psyche of these "images of the enemy."" 
Justifications for the desire to destroy these threats are really afterthoughts, pro- 
posed explanations intended for the official record but not for critical analysis of 
the damage to be done or being done. 

The most extreme instance of this hostile imagination at work is of course 
when it leads to genocide, the plan of one people to eliminate from existence all 
those who are conceptualized as their enemy. We are aware of some of the ways 
in which Hitler's propaganda machine transformed Jewish neighbors, co-workers, 
even friends into despised enemies of the State who deserved the "final solution." 
This process was seeded in elementary school textbooks by means of images and 
texts that rendered all Jews contemptible and not worthy of human compassion. 
Here I would like to consider briefly a recent example of attempted genocide along 
with the use of rape as a weapon against humanity. Then I will show how one as- 
pect of this complex psychological process, the dehumanization component, can 
be studied in controlled experimental research that isolates its critical features for 
systematic analysis. 


The Lucifer Effect 


Literature has taught us for at least three thousand years that no person or state 
is incapable of evil. In Homer's account of the Trojan War, Agamemnon, com- 
mander of the Greek forces, tells his men before they engage their enemy, "We are 
not going to leave a single one of [the Trojans] alive, down to the babies in their 
mothers' wombs — not even they must live. The whole people must be wiped out of 
existence ..." These vile words come from a noble citizen of one of the most civi- 
lized nation-states of its time, the home of philosophy, jurisprudence, and classi- 
cal drama. 

We live in the "mass murder century." More than 50 million people have 
been systematically murdered by government decrees, enacted by soldiers and 
civilian forces willing to carry out the kill orders. Beginning in 1915, Ottoman 
Turks slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians. The mid-twentieth century saw the 
Nazis liquidate at least 6 million Jews, 3 million Soviet POWs, 2 million Poles, and 
hundreds of thousands of "undesirable" peoples. As Stalin's Soviet empire mur- 
dered 20 million Russians, Mao Zedong's government policies resulted in an even 
greater number of deaths, up to 30 million of the country's own citizens. The 
Communist Khmer Rouge regime killed off 1.7 million people of its own nation in 
Cambodia. Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party is accused of killing 100,000 Kurds in 
Iraq. In 2006, genocide has erupted in Sudan's Darfur region, which most of the 
world has conveniently ignored. 12 

Note that almost exactly the same words that Agamemnon used three mil- 
lennia ago were also spoken in our own time, in the African nation of Rwanda, as 
the ruling Hutus were in the process of wiping out their former neighbors, the 
Tutsi minority. One victim recalls what one of her tormentors told her: "We're 
going to kill all the Tutsi, and one day Hutu children will have to ask what a Tutsi 
child looked like." 

The Rape of Rwanda 

The peaceful Tutsi people of Rwanda in Central Africa learned that a weapon of 
mass destruction could be a simple machete, used against them with lethal effi- 
ciency. The systematic slaughter of Tutsis by their former neighbors, the Hutus, 
spread throughout the country in a few months during the spring of 1994 as 
death squads killed thousands of innocent men, women, and children with ma- 
chetes and nail-studded clubs. A report by the United Nations estimates that be- 
tween 800,000 and a million Rwandans were murdered in about three months' 
time, making the massacre the most ferocious in recorded history. Three quarters 
of the entire Tutsi population were exterminated. 

Hutu neighbors were slaughtering former friends and next-door neighbors — 
on command. A Hutu murderer said in an interview a decade later that "The 
worst thing about the massacre was killing my neighbor; we used to drink to- 

The Psychology of Evil 


gether, his cattle would graze on my land. He was like a relative." A Hutu mother 
described how she had beaten to death the children next door, who looked at her 
with wide-eyed amazement because they had been friends and neighbors all their 
lives. She reported that someone from the government had told her that the Tutsi 
were their enemies and had given her a club and her husband a machete to use 
against this threat. She justified the slaughter as doing "a favor" to those children, 
who would have become helpless orphans given that their parents had already 
been murdered. 

Until recently, there was little recognition of the systematic use of rape of 
these Rwandan women as a tactic of terror and spiritual annihilation. By some 
accounts it began when a Hutu leader, Mayor Silvester Cacumbibi, raped the 
daughter of his former friend and then had other men also rape her. She later re- 
ported that he had told her, "We won't waste bullets on you; we will rape you, and 
that will be worse for you." 

Unlike the rapes of Chinese women by Japanese soldiers in Nanking (to be de- 
scribed subsequently), where the details of the nightmare were blurred by failures 
in early reporting and the reluctance of the Chinese to relive that experience by 
sharing it with outsiders, much is known about the psychological dynamics of 
the rape of Rwandan women." 

When the citizens of the village of Butare defended its borders against the on- 
slaught of the Hutus, the interim government dispatched a special person to deal 
with what it considered a revolt. She was the national minister of family and 
women's affairs and Butare's favorite daughter, having grown up in the area. 
Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a Tutsi and former social worker who lectured on women's 
empowerment, was the only hope of this village. That hope was instantly shattered. 
Pauline supervised a terrible trap, promising the people that the Red Cross would 
provide food and shelter in the local stadium; in reality, armed Hutu thugs (the In- 
terahamwe) were awaiting their arrival, eventually murdering most of the innocent 
sanctuary seekers. They were machine-gunned, grenades were thrown into the un- 
suspecting throngs, and survivors were sliced apart with machetes. 

Pauline gave the order that "Before you kill the women, you need to rape 
them." She ordered another group of these thugs to burn alive a group of seventy 
women and girls they were guarding and provided them with gasoline from her 
car to do so. Again she invited the men to rape their victims before killing them. 
One of the young men told a translator that they couldn't rape them because "we 
had been killing all day and we were tired. We just put the gasoline in bottles and 
scattered it among the women, then started burning." 

A young woman, Rose, was raped by Pauline's son, Shalom, who announced 
that he had "permission" from his mother to rape Tutsi women. She was the only 
Tutsi allowed to live so she could deliver a progress report to God as the witness of 
the genocide. She was then forced to watch her mother being raped and twenty of 
her relatives slaughtered. 

A UN. report estimated that at least 200,000 women were raped during this 


The Lucifer Effect 

brief period of horror, many of them killed afterward. "Some were penetrated 
with spears, gun barrels, bottles or the stamens of banana trees. Sexual organs 
were mutilated with machetes, boiling water and acid; women's breasts were cut 
off' (p. 85). "Making the matter worse, the rapes, most of them committed by 
many men in succession, were frequently accompanied by other forms of physical 
torture and often staged as public performances to multiply the terror and degra- 
dation" (p. 89). They were also used as a public way of promoting social bonding 
among the Hutu murderers. This shared emergent camaraderie is often a by- 
product of male group rape. 

The extent of the inhumanity knew no boundaries. "A 45-year old Rwandan 
woman was raped by her 12-year-old son — with Interahamwe holding a hatchet 
to his throat — in front of her husband, while their five other young children 
were forced to hold open her thighs" (p. 116). The spread of AIDS among the living 
rape victims continues to wreak havoc in Rwanda. "By using a disease, a plague, as 
an apocalyptic terror, as biological warfare, you're annihilating the procreators, 
perpetuating death unto generations," according to Charles Strozier, professor of 
history at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York (p. 116). 

How do we even begin to understand the forces that were operating to make 
Pauline a new kind of criminal: one woman against enemy women? A combina- 
tion of history and social psychology can provide a framework based on power 
and status differentials. First, she was moved by the widespread sense of the lower 
status of the Hutu women compared with the beauty and arrogance of Tutsi 
women. They were taller and lighter-skinned and had more Caucasian features, 
which made them appear more desirable to men than Hutu women were. 

A racial distinction had arbitrarily been created by Belgian and German colo- 
nialists around the turn of the twentieth century to distinguish between people 
who for centuries had intermarried, spoke the same language, and shared the 
same religion. They forced all Rwandans to carry identification cards that de- 
clared them to be in either the majority Hutu or the minority Tutsi, with the bene- 
fits of higher education and administrative posts going to the Tutsi. That became 
another source of Pauline's pent-up desire for revenge. It was also true that she 
was a political opportunist in a male-dominated administration, needing to prove 
her loyalty, obedience, and patriotic zeal to her superiors by orchestrating crimes 
never before perpetrated by a woman against an enemy. It also became easier to 
encourage the mass murders and rapes of Tutsis by being able to view them as ab- 
stractions and also by calling them by the dehumanizing term "cockroaches," 
which needed to be "exterminated." Here is a living documentary of the hostile 
imagination that paints the faces of the enemy in hateful hues and then destroys 
the canvas. 

As unimaginable as it may be to any of us for someone to intentionally in- 
spire such monstrous crimes, Nicole Bergevin, Pauline's lawyer in her genocide 
trial, reminds us, "When you do murder trials, you realize that we are all suscep- 
tible, and you wouldn't even dream you would ever commit this act. But you come 

The Psychology of Evil 


to understand that everyone is [susceptible]. It could happen to me, it could hap- 
pen to my daughter. It could happen to you" (p. 130). 

Highlighting even more clearly one of the main theses of this book is the 
considered opinion of Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch, who has inves- 
tigated many such barbarous crimes. She forces us to see our reflection mirrored 
in these atrocities: 

This behavior lies just under the surface of any of us. The simplified ac- 
counts of genocide allow distance between us and the perpetrators of 
genocide. They are so evil we couldn't ever see ourselves doing the 
same thing. But if you consider the terrible pressure under which people 
were operating, then you automatically reassert their humanity — and 
that becomes alarming. You are forced to look at the situation and say, 
"What would I have done? Sometimes the answer is not encouraging." 
(p. 132) 

The French journalist Jean Hatzfeld interviewed ten of the Hutu militia 
members now in prison for having macheted to death thousands of Tutsi civil- 
ians.' 4 The testimonies of these ordinary men — mostly farmers, active church- 
goers, and a former teacher — are chilling in their matter-of-fact, remorseless 
depiction of unimaginable cruelty. Their words force us to confront the unthink- 
able again and again: that human beings are capable of totally abandoning their 
humanity for a mindless ideology, to follow and then exceed the orders of charis- 
matic authorities to destroy everyone they label as "The Enemy." Let's reflect on a 
few of these accounts, which make Truman Capote's In Cold Blood pale in com- 

"Since I was killing often, I began to feel it did not mean anything to me. I 
want to make clear that from the first gentleman I killed to the last, I was not 
sorry about a single one." 

"We were doing a job to order. We were lining up behind everyone's enthusi- 
asm. We gathered into teams on the soccer field and went out hunting as kin- 
dred spirits." 

"Anyone who hesitated to kill because of feelings of sadness absolutely had to 
watch his mouth, to say nothing about the reason for his reticence, for fear of 
being accused of complicity." 

"We killed everyone we tracked down [hiding] in the papyrus. We had no rea- 
son to choose, to expect or fear anyone in particular. We were cutters of ac- 
quaintances, cutters of neighbors, just plan cutters." 

"Coir Tutsi neighbors, we knew they were not guilty of no misdoing, but 
we thought all Tutsis at fault for our constant troubles. We no longer looked 


The Lucifer Effect 

at them one by one, we no longer stopped to recognize them as they had 
been, not even as colleagues. They had become a threat greater than all we 
had experienced together, more important than our way of seeing things in 
the community. That's how we reasoned and how we killed at the same 

"We no longer saw a human being when we turned up a Tutsi in the swamps. 
I mean a person like us, sharing similar thoughts and feelings. The hunt was 
savage, the hunters were savage, the prey was savage — savagery took over 
the mind." 

A particularly moving reaction to these brutal murders and rapes, which ex- 
presses a theme we will revisit, comes from one of the surviving Tutsi women, 

"Before, I knew that a man could kill another man, because it happens all the 
time. Now I know that even the person with whom you've shared food, or 
with whom you've slept, even he can kill you with no trouble. The closest 
neighbor can kill you with his teeth: that is what I have learned since the 
genocide, and my eyes no longer gaze the same on the face of the world." 

Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire has authored a powerful testimony 
about his experiences as the force commander for the UN. Assistance Mission to 
Rwanda in Shake Hands with the Devil." Although he was able to save thousands 
of people by his heroic ingenuity, this top military commander was left devastated 
by his inability to summon more aid from the United Nations to prevent many 
more atrocities. He ended up with severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a psy- 
chological casualty of this massacre." 

The Rape of Nanking, China 

So graphically horrifying — yet so easily visualized — is the concept of rape that we 
use the term metaphorically to describe other, almost unimaginable atrocities of 
war. Japanese soldiers butchered between 260,000 and 350,000 Chinese civil- 
ians in just a few bloody months of 1937. Those figures represent more deaths 
than the total annihilation caused by the atomic bombing of Japan and all the 
civilian deaths in most European countries during all of World War U. 

Beyond the sheer number of Chinese slaughtered, it is important for us to 
recognize the "creatively evil" ways devised by their tormentors to make even 
death desirable. The author Iris Chang's investigation of that horror revealed that 
Chinese men were used for bayonet practice and in decapitation contests. An esti- 
mated 20,000 to 80,000 women were raped. Many soldiers went beyond rape to 
disembowel women, slice off their breasts, and nail them to walls alive. Fathers 

The Psychology of Evil 


were forced to rape their daughters and sons their mothers as other family mem- 
bers watched." 

War engenders cruelty and barbaric behavior against anyone considered the 
Enemy, as the dehumanized, demonic Other. The Rape of Nanking is notorious 
for the graphic detail of the horrific extremes soldiers went to to degrade and de- 
stroy innocent civilian "enemy non-combatants." However, were it a singular in- 
cident and not just another part of the historical tapestry of such inhumanities 
against civilians we might think it an anomaly. British troops executed and raped 
civilians during the U.S. Revolutionary War. Soviet Red Army soldiers raped an es- 
timated 100,000 Berlin women toward the end of Word War II and between 
1945 and 1948. In addition to the rapes and murders of more than 500 civilians 
at the My Lai massacre in 1968, recently released secret Pentagon evidence de- 
scribes 320 incidents of American atrocities against Vietnamese and Cambodian 
civilians. 18 

Dehumanization and Moral Disengagement in the Laboratory 

We can assume that most people, most of the time, are moral creatures. But imag- 
ine that this morality is like a gearshift that at times gets pushed into neutral. 
When that happens, morality is disengaged. If the car happens to be on an in- 
cline, car and driver move precipitously downhill. It is then the nature of the cir- 
cumstances that determines outcomes, not the driver's skills or intentions. This 
simple analogy, I think, captures one of the central themes in the theory of moral 
disengagement developed by my Stanford colleague Albert Bandura. In a later 
chapter, we will review his theory, which will help explain why some otherwise 
good people can be led to do bad things. At this point, I want to turn to the experi- 
mental research that Bandura and his assistants conducted, which illustrates the 
ease with which morality can be disengaged by the tactic of dehumanizing a po- 
tential victim.'* In an elegant demonstration that shows the power of dehuman- 
ization, one single word is shown to increase aggression toward a target. Let's see 
how the experiment worked. 

Imagine you are a college student who has volunteered for a study of group 
problem solving as part of a three-person team from your school. Your task is to 
help students from another college improve their group problem-solving perfor- 
mance by punishing their errors. That punishment takes the form of administer- 
ing electric shocks that can be increased in severity over successive trials. After 
taking your names and those of the other team, the assistant leaves to tell the ex- 
perimenter that the study can begin. There will be ten trials during each of which 
you can decide the shock level to administer to the other student group in the next 

You don't realize that it is part of the experimental script, but you "acciden- 
tally" overhear the assistant complaining over the intercom to the experimenter 
that the other students "seem like animals." You don't know it, but in two other 


The Lucifer Effect 

conditions to which other students like you have been randomly assigned, the as- 
sistant describes the other students as "nice guys" or does not label them at all. 

Do these simple labels have any effect? It doesn't seem so initially. On the first 
trial all the groups respond in the same way by administering low levels of shock, 
around level 2. But soon it begins to matter what each group has heard about 
these anonymous others. If you know nothing about them, you give a steady av- 
erage of about a level 5. If you have come to think of them as "nice guys," you 
treat them in a more humane fashion, giving them significantly less shock, about 
a level 3. However, imagining them as "animals" switches off any sense of com- 
passion you might have for them, and when they commit errors, you begin to 
shock them with ever-increasing levels of intensity, significantly more than in the 
other conditions, as you steadily move up toward the high level 8. 

Think carefully for a moment about the psychological processes that a simple 
label has tripped off in your mind. You overheard a person, whom you do not 
know personally, tell some authority, whom you have never seen, that other col- 
lege students like you seem like "animals." That single descriptive term changes 
your mental construction of these others. It distances you from images of friendly 
college kids who must be more similar to you than different. That new mental set 
has a powerful impact on your behavior. The post hoc rationalizations the experi- 
mental students generated to explain why they needed to give so much shock to 
the "animal-house" students in the process of "teaching them a good lesson" 
were equally fascinating. This example of using controlled experimental research 
to investigate the underlying psychological processes that occur in significant 
real-world cases of violence will be extended in chapters 12 and 13 when we 
consider how behavioral scientists have investigated various aspects of the psy- 
chology of evil. 

Our ability to selectively engage and disengage our moral 
standards . . . helps explain how people can be barbarically 
cruel in one moment and compassionate the next. 

— Albert Bandura 20 
Horrific Images of Abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison 

The driving force behind this book was the need to better understand the how and 
why of the physical and psychological abuses perpetrated on prisoners by Ameri- 
can Military Police at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. As the photographic evi- 
dence of these abuses rocketed around the world in May 2004, we all saw for the 
first time in recorded history vivid images of young American men and women 
engaged in unimaginable forms of torture against civilians they were supposed to 
be guarding. The tormentors and the tormented were captured in an extensive 
display of digitally documented depravity that the soldiers themselves had made 
during their violent escapades. 

The Psychology of Evil 


Why did they create photographic evidence of such illegal acts, which if 
found would surely get them into trouble? In these "trophy photos," like the proud 
displays by big-game hunters of yesteryear with the beasts they have killed, we 
saw smiling men and women in the act of abusing their lowly animal creatures. 
The images are of punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their 
feet; forcibly arranging naked, hooded prisoners in piles and pyramids; forcing 
naked prisoners to wear women's underwear over their heads; forcing male pris- 
oners to masturbate or simulate fellatio while being photographed or videotaped 
with female soldiers smiling or encouraging it; hanging prisoners from cell rafters 
for extended time periods; dragging a prisoner around with a leash tied to his 
neck; and using unmuzzled attack dogs to frighten prisoners. 

The iconic image that ricocheted from that dungeon to the streets of Iraq and 
every corner of the globe was that of the "triangle man": a hooded detainee is 
standing on a box in a stress position with his outstretched arms protruding from 
under a garment blanket revealing electrical wires attached to his fingers. He was 
told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box when his strength gave out. 
It did not matter that the wires went nowhere; it mattered that he believed the lie 
and must have experienced considerable stress. There were even more shocking 
photographs that the U.S. government chose not to release to the public because 
of the greater damage they would surely have done to the credibility and moral 
image of the U.S. military and President Bush's administrative command. I have 
seen hundreds of these images, and they are indeed horrifying. 

I was deeply distressed at the sight of such suffering, of such displays of arro- 
gance, of such indifference to the humiliation being inflicted upon helpless pris- 
oners. I was also amazed to learn that one of the abusers, a female soldier who 
had just turned twenty-one, described the abuse as "just fun and games." 

I was shocked, but I was not surprised. The media and the "person in the 
street" around the globe asked how such evil deeds could be perpetrated by these 
seven men and women, whom military leaders had labeled as "rogue soldiers" 
and "a few bad apples." Instead, I wondered what circumstances in that prison 
cell block could have tipped the balance and led even good soldiers to do such bad 
things. To be sure, advancing a situational analysis for such crimes does not ex- 
cuse them or make them morally acceptable. Rather, I needed to find the meaning 
in this madness. I wanted to understand how it was possible for the characters of 
these young people to be so transformed in such a short time that they could do 
these unthinkable deeds. 

Parallel Universes in Abu Ghraib and Stanford's Prison 

The reason that I was shocked but not surprised by the images and stories of pris- 
oner abuse in the Abu Ghraib "Little Shop of Horrors" was that I had seen some- 
thing similar before. Three decades earlier, I had witnessed eerily similar scenes as 
they unfolded in a project that I directed, of my own design: naked, shackled pris- 


The Lucifer Effect 

oners with bags over their heads, guards stepping on prisoners' backs as they did 
push-ups, guards sexually humiliating prisoners, and prisoners suffering from ex- 
treme stress. Some of the visual images from my experiment are practically inter- 
changeable with those of the guards and prisoners in that remote prison in Iraq, 
the notorious Abu Ghraib. 

The college students role-playing guards and prisoners in a mock prison ex- 
periment conducted at Stanford University in the summer of 1971 were mirrored 
in the real guards and real prison in the Iraq of 2003. Not only had I seen such 
events, I had been responsible for creating the conditions that allowed such 
abuses to flourish. As the project's principal investigator, I designed the experi- 
ment that randomly assigned normal, healthy, intelligent college students to 
enact the roles of either guards or prisoners in a realistically simulated prison set- 
ting where they were to live and work for several weeks. My student research as- 
sociates, Craig Haney, Curt Banks, and David Jaffe, and I wanted to understand 
some of the dynamics operating in the psychology of imprisonment. 

How do ordinary people adapt to such an institutional setting? How do the 
power differentials between guards and prisoners play out in their daily inter- 
actions? If you put good people in a bad place, do the people triumph or does the 
place corrupt them? Would the violence that is endemic to most real prisons be 
absent in a prison filled with good middle-class boys? These were some of the ex- 
ploratory issues to be investigated in what started out as a simple study of prison 


Our journey together will be one that the poet Milton might say leads into "dark- 
ness visible." It will take us to places where evil, by any definition of the word, has 
flourished. We will meet a host of people who have done very bad things to others, 
often out of a sense of high purpose, the best ideology, and moral imperative. You 
are alerted to watch for demons along the path, but you may be disappointed by 
their banality and their similarity to your next-door neighbor. With your permis- 
sion, as your adventure guide, I will invite you to walk in their shoes and see 
through their eyes in order to give you an insider's perspective upon evil, up close 
and personal. At times, the view will be downright ugly, but only by examining 
and understanding the causes of such evil might we be able to change it, to con- 
tain it, to transform it through wise decisions and innovative communal action. 

The basement of Stanford University's Jordan Hall is the backdrop I will use 
to help you understand what it was like to be a prisoner, a guard, or a prison super- 
intendent at that time in that special place. Although the research is widely known 
from media sound bites and some of our research publications, the full story has 
never before been told. I will narrate the events as they unfold in first person, pres- 
ent tense, re-creating the highlights of each day and night in chronological 

The Psychology of Evil 


sequence. After we consider the implications of the Stanford Prison Experiment — 
ethical, theoretical, and practical — we will expand the bases of the psychological 
study of evil by exploring a range of experimental and field research by psycholo- 
gists that illustrates the power of situational forces over individual behavior. We 
will examine in some detail research on conformity, obedience, deindividuation, 
dehumanization, moral disengagement, and the evil of inaction. 

"Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds," said 
President Franklin Roosevelt. Prisons are metaphors for constraints on freedom, 
both literal and symbolic. The Stanford Prison Experiment went from initially 
being a symbolic prison to becoming an all-too-real one in the minds of its prison- 
ers and guards. What are other self-imposed prisons that limit our basic freedoms? 
Neurotic disorders, low self-esteem, shyness, prejudice, shame, and excessive fear 
of terrorism are just some of the chimeras that limit our potentiality for freedom 
and happiness, blinding our full appreciation of the world around us. !l 

With that knowledge in mind, Abu Ghraib returns to capture our attention. 
But now let us go beyond the headlines and TV images to appreciate more fully 
what it was like to be a prison guard or a prisoner in that horrid prison at the time 
of those abuses. Torture forces its way into our investigation in the new forms that 
it has taken since the Inquisition. I will take you into the court-martial of one of 
those military policemen, and we will witness some of the negative fallout of the 
soldiers' actions. Throughout, we will bring to bear all we know about the triadic 
components of our social psychological understanding, focusing on acting people 
in particular situations, created and maintained by systemic forces. We will put 
on trial the command structure of the U.S. military, OA officials, and top govern- 
ment leaders for their combined complicity in creating a dysfunctional system 
that spawned the torture and abuses of Abu Ghraib. 

The first part of our final chapter will offer some guidelines on how to resist 
unwanted social influence, how to build resistance to the seductive lures of influ- 
ence professionals. We want to know how to combat mind control tactics used to 
compromise our freedom of choice to the tyranny of conformity, compliance, 
obedience, and self-doubting fears. Although I preach the power of the situation, 
I also endorse the power of people to act mindfully and critically as informed 
agents directing their behavior in purposeful ways. By understanding how social 
influence operates and by realizing that any of us can be vulnerable to its subtle 
and pervasive powers, we can become wise and wily consumers instead of being 
easily influenced by authorities, group dynamics, persuasive appeals, and compli- 
ance strategies. 

I want to end by reversing the question with which we started. Instead of 
considering whether you are capable of evil, I want you to consider whether you 
are capable of becoming a hero. My final argument introduces the concept of the 
"banality of heroism." I believe that any one of us is a potential hero, waiting for 
the right situational moment to make the decision to act to help others despite 


The Lucifer Effect 

personal risk and sacrifice. But we have far to travel before we get to that happy 
conclusion, so andiamo! 

Power said to the world, 
"You are mine." 

The world kept it prisoner on her throne. 

Love said to the world, "I am thine." 

The world gave it the freedom of her house. 

— Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds" 


Sunday's Surprise Arrests 

Little did this band of young strangers realize that Palo Alto's church bells were 
tolling for them, that their lives would soon be transformed in totally unexpected 

It is Sunday, August 14, 1 97 1 , 9:55 A.M. The temperature is in the seventies, 
the humidity is low, as usual, the visibility is unlimited; there is a cloudless azure 
blue sky above. Another postcard-perfect summer day begins in Palo Alto, Califor- 
nia. The Chamber of Commerce would not have it otherwise. Imperfection and ir- 
regularity are as little tolerated in this western paradise as is litter in the streets or 
weeds in a neighbor's garden. It feels good to be alive on a day like this, in a place 
like this. 

This is the Eden where the American dream plays out, the end of the frontier. 
Palo Alto's population is closing in on 60,000 citizens, but its main distinction de- 
rives from the 1 1 ,000 students living and studying about a mile away down Palm 
Drive with its hundreds of palm trees lining the entrance to Stanford University. 
Stanford is like a sprawling mini-city covering more than eight thousand acres, 
with its own police and fire departments and post office. Just an hour's drive north 
is San Francisco. Palo Alto, by contrast, is safer, cleaner, quieter, and whiter. Most 
blacks live across the Highway 101 tracks at the east end of town, in East Palo 
Alto. In comparison to the run-down, multistory tenement buildings I was used 
to, East Palo Alto's single- and two-family houses more nearly resemble a suburb 
where my high school teacher might have dreamed of living if he could have 
saved enough money by moonlighting as a cab driver. 

Yet, all around this oasis, trouble has begun brewing of late. Over in Oak- 
land, the Black Panther Party is promoting black pride, backed by black power, to 
resist racist practices "by all means necessary." Prisons are becoming centers for 
recruiting a new breed of political prisoners, inspired by George Jackson, who is 
about to go on trial with his "Soledad Brothers" for the alleged murder of a prison 


The Lucifer Effect 

guard. The women's liberation movement is picking up steam, dedicated to end- 
ing women's secondary citizenship and fostering new opportunities for them. The 
unpopular war in Vietnam drags on as body counts soar daily. That tragedy wors- 
ens as the Nixon-Kissinger administration reacts to antiwar activists with ever- 
greater bombings in reaction to the mass demonstrations against the war. The 
"military-industrial complex" is the enemy of this new generation of people, who 
openly question its aggressive-commercial-exploitation values. For anyone who 
likes to live in a truly dynamic era, this Zeitgeist is unlike any in recent history. 


Intrigued by the contrasts between the sense of ambient anonymity I lived with in 
New York City and this sense of community and personal identity that I felt in 
Palo Alto, I decided to conduct a simple field experiment to test the validity of this 
difference. I had become interested in the antisocial effects that anonymity in- 
duced when people felt no one could identify them when they were in a setting 
that encouraged aggression. Based on the Lord of the Flies conception of masks 
liberating hostile impulses, I had conducted research showing that research par- 
ticipants who were "deindividuated" more readily inflicted pain on others than 
did those who felt more individuated.' Now I wanted to see what the good citizens 
of Palo Alto would do in response to the temptation offered by an invitation to 
vandalism. I designed a Candid Camera-type field study that involved abandoning 
automobiles in Palo Alto and, as a comparison, three thousand miles away in the 
Bronx. Good-looking cars were placed across the street from the campuses of 
New York University's Bronx campus and Stanford University, with their hoods 
raised and license plates removed — sure "releaser" signals to lure citizens into be- 
coming vandals. From concealed vantage points, my research team watched and 
photographed the action in the Bronx and videotaped the Palo Alto scene/ 

We had not yet set up our recording equipment in the Bronx when the first 
vandals appeared and began stripping the car — Dad barking orders for Mom to 
empty the trunk and the son to check out the glove compartment while he re- 
moved the battery. Passersby, walking and driving, stopped to strip our helpless 
car of any and all items of value before the demolition derby began. This episode 
was followed by a parade of vandals who systematically stripped and then demol- 
ished that vulnerable New York City car. 

Time magazine carried this sad tale of urban anonymity at work under the 
heading "Diary of an Abandoned Automobile.'" In a matter of days, we recorded 
twenty-three separate destructive incidents on that hapless Oldsmobile in the 
Bronx. The vandals turned out to be just ordinary citizens. They were all white, 
well-dressed adults who, under other circumstances, might demand more police 
protection and less coddling of criminals and would "very definitely agree" with 
the opinion poll item about the necessity for more law and order. Contrary to ex- 
pectation, only one of these acts was performed by kids simply delighting in the 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


joys of destruction. Even more surprising, all this destruction took place in broad 
daylight, so we had no need for our infrared film. Internalized anonymity needs 
no darkness for its expression. 

But what was the fate of our abandoned Palo Alto car, which had also been 
made to look obviously vulnerable to assault? After a full week, there was not a 
single act of vandalism against it! People passed by, drove by, looked at it, but no 
one even touched it. Well, not exactly. It rained one day, and a kindly gentleman 
shut the hood. (God forbid the engine should get wet!) When I drove the car away, 
back to the Stanford campus, three neighbors called the police to report a possible 
theft of an abandoned car. 4 That is my operational definition of "community," 
people caring enough to take action in the face of an unusual or possibly illegal 
event on their turf. I believe such prosocial behavior comes from the assumption of 
reciprocal altruism, others would do the same to protect their property or person. 

The message of this little demonstration is that conditions that make us feel 
anonymous, when we think that others do not know us or care to, can foster anti- 
social, self-interested behaviors. My earlier research highlighted the power of 
masking one's identity to unleash aggressive acts against other people in situa- 
tions that gave permission to violate the usual taboos against interpersonal vio- 
lence. This abandoned car demonstration extended that notion to include ambient 
anonymity as a precursor to violations of the social contract. 

Curiously, this demonstration has become the only bit of empirical evidence 
used to support the "Broken Windows Theory" of crime, which posits public disor- 
der as a situational stimulus to crime, along with the presence of criminals. 5 Any 
setting that cloaks people in anonymity reduces their sense of personal account- 
ability and civic responsibility for their actions. We see this in many institutional 
settings, such as our schools and jobs, the military, and prisons. Broken Windows 
advocates argue that alleviating physical disorder — removing abandoned cars 
from the streets, wiping out graffiti, and fixing broken windows — can reduce 
crime and disarray in city streets. There is evidence that such proactive measures 
work well in some cities, such as New York but not as well in other cities. 

Community spirit thrives in a quiet, orderly way in places such as Palo Alto 
where people care about the physical and social quality of their lives and have the 
resources to work at improving both. Here there is a sense of fairness and trust 
that contrasts with the nagging tugs of inequity and cynicism that drag down 
folks in some other places. Here, for example, people have faith in their police de- 
partment to control crime and contain evil — justifiably so, because the police are 
well educated, well trained, friendly, and honest. The police go "by the book," 
which makes them act fairly, even if, on rare occasions, people forget that police 
are just blue-collar workers who happen to wear blue uniforms and can get laid 
off when the city budget is in the red. At rare times, however, even the best of 
them can let authority rule over their humanity. That doesn't happen often in a 
place like Palo Alto, but it did in a curious way that forms the back story of how 
the Stanford Prison Experiment started off with a big bang. 


The Lucifer Effect 


The only blemish on the otherwise excellent service and citizenship record of Palo 
Alto's finest was their loss of composure during a confrontation with Stanford 
student radicals during the 1970 strike against the United States involvement in 
Indochina. When these students started "trashing" campus buildings, I helped 
organize several thousand other students in constructive antiwar activities to show 
that violence and vandalism got only negative media attention and had no impact 
on the conduct of the war, while our pro-peace tactics might.* Unfortunately, the 
new university president, Kenneth Pitzer, panicked and called in the cops, and, as 
in many such confrontations happening all over America, too many cops lost their 
professional composure and beat up the kids they had previously felt it was their 
duty to protect. There were even more violent police — campus confrontations — at 
the University of Wisconsin (October 1967), Kent State University in Ohio (May 
1970), and Jackson State University in Mississippi (also May 1970). College stu- 
dents were shot at, wounded, and killed by local police and National Guardsmen, 
who in other times are counted on as their protectors. (See Notes for details.) 7 
From The New York Times, May 2, 1970 (pp. 1,9): 

The resurgence of campus antiwar sentiment — with Cambodian develop- 
ments as its central issue — took a variety of forms yesterday and included 
the following incidents: 

Two National Guard units were put on alert by Gov. Marvin Mandel of 
Maryland after students at the University of Maryland clashed with the 
state police following a rally and a hit-and-run attack on the RO.T.C 
headquarters on the College Park Campus. 

About 2,300 Princeton University Students and faculty members 
voted to strike until at least Monday afternoon, when a mass meeting is 

scheduled: this will conclude a boycott of all social functions A student 

strike at Stanford University developed into a rock-throwing melee on the 
California campus: police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. 

A Stanford report described a level of violence that had never before been 
seen on this bucolic campus. Police were called to campus at least thirteen times 
and made more than forty arrests. The most serious demonstrations occurred on 
April 29 and 30, 1970, following news of the U.S. invasion in Cambodia. Police 
from as far away as San Francisco were summoned, rocks were thrown, and tear 
gas was first used on campus during these two nights, which President Pitzer de- 
scribed as "tragic." Approximately sixty-five people, including many police offi- 
cers, were hurt. 

Hard feelings arose between the Stanford college community, on the one side, 
and the Palo Alto police and hard-line, "hawk" townies, on the other. This was 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


a strange conflict because there had never been the same kind of love-hate, 
town-gown relationship that existed between the townies in New Haven and Yale 
University students that I had experienced as a graduate student. 

The new chief of police, Captain James Zurcher, who had taken charge of the 
department in February 1971, was eager to dissolve any lingering animosity 
from the riot-torn days of his predecessor and was thus receptive to my request to 
collaborate in a program of city police — Stanford student "depolarization." 8 
Young, articulate officers conducted student tours of the Police Department's 
sparkling new facility, while students reciprocated by inviting police to share dor- 
mitory meals with them and sit in on classes. I suggested further that interested 
police rookies might even participate in some of our research. It was another sign 
that reasonable people could work out reasonable solutions to what seemed like 
insoluble social problems. However, it was in this context that I naively helped to 
create a new pocket of evil in Palo Alto. 

Chief Zurcher agreed that it would be interesting to study how men become 
socialized into the role of police officers and what went into transforming a rookie 
into a "good cop." Great idea, I replied, but that would require a big grant that I 
didn't have. But I did have a small grant to study what went into the making of a 
prison guard, since that was a role narrower in function as well as in territory. 
How about creating a prison in which rookie cops and college students would be 
both mock guards and mock prisoners? That sounded like a good idea to the chief. 
In addition to whatever I might learn, the chief felt that it would be a good per- 
sonal training experience for some of his men. So he agreed to assign several of 
his rookies to be in this mock prison experience. I was delighted, knowing that 
with that foot in the door, I could then ask to have his officers conduct mock ar- 
rests of the students who were soon to become our prisoners. 

Shortly before we were ready to begin, the chief reneged on his promise to 
use his own men as mock prisoners or guards, saying they could not be spared for 
the next two weeks. Nevertheless, the spirit of detente was maintained, and he 
volunteered to assist in my prison study in whatever other way feasible. 

I suggested that the ideal way to start the study most realistically and with 
dramatic flair would be for his officers to stage arrests of the would-be mock pris- 
oners. It would take only a few hours on an off-time Sunday morning, and it 
would surely make a big difference in the success of the research if the prisoners- 
to-be had their freedom suddenly stripped away as they would in real arrests, 
rather than coming to Stanford voluntarily to surrender their freedom as re- 
search subjects. The chief acquiesced halfheartedly and promised that the duty 
sergeant would assign one squad car for this purpose on Sunday morning. 


My mistake was not getting this confirmation in writing. Reality checks demand 
written documents (when an agreement is not filmed or taped). When I realized 


The Lucifer Effect 

this truth on Saturday and called the station for a confirmation, Chief Zurcher 
was already away for the weekend. Bad omen. 

As I expected, on Sunday the duty sergeant had no intention of committing 
the Palo Alto Police Department to a surprise mass arrest of a band of college stu- 
dents for alleged penal code violations, certainly not without written authoriza- 
tion from his chief. No way this old-timer was going to get involved in any 
experiment conducted by someone like me, whom his vice president, Spiro 
Agnew, had dismissed as an "effete intellectual snob." There were obviously more 
important things for his officers to do than to play cops and robbers as part of 
some lamebrained experiment. In his view, psychology experiments meant med- 
dling into other people's affairs and finding out things better left private. He must 
have thought psychologists could read people's minds if they looked into their 
eyes, so he avoided looking at me when he said, "Sorry about that, Professor. I'd 
like to help you out, but rules are rules. Can't reassign the men to a new duty post 
without formal authorization." 

Before he could say, "Come back on Monday, when the chiefs here," I had a 
flash of this well-planned study going aground before even being launched. All 
systems were go: our mock prison had been carefully constructed in the basement 
of Stanford's Psychology Department; the guards had selected their uniforms and 
were eagerly waiting to receive their first prisoners; the first day's food had al- 
ready been bought; the prisoners' uniforms had been all hand sewn by my secre- 
tary's daughter; videotaping facilities and taped bugging of the prisoner cells had 
been readied, the university Health Department, the Legal Department, the Fire 
Department, and the campus police had all been alerted; and arrangements for 
renting beds and linens were complete. Much more had been done to accommo- 
date the daunting logistics of dealing with at least two dozen volunteers for two 
weeks, half living in our prison day and night, the others working eight-hour 
shifts. I had never before conducted an experiment that lasted more than one 
hour per subject per session. All this, and with one simple "No"; it might all crash 
and burn. 

Having learned that precaution is the better part of scientific wisdom and 
that an ace in the hole is the best attribute of a Bronx wiseguy, I had anticipated 
this scenario as soon as I learned that Captain Zurcher had split from the scene. 
Therefore, I had persuaded a San Francisco TV director at station KRON to film 
the exciting surprise police arrests as a special feature for its evening news pro- 
gram. I counted on the power of the media to soften institutional resistance and 
even more on the lure of showbiz to get the arresting officers on my side — in front 
of the camera. 

"Sure is a shame, Sergeant, that we can't proceed today as the chief expected 
we would. We have a TV cameraman right here from Channel 4 all ready to film 
the arrests for tonight's evening news. It would have been good public relations 
for the department, but maybe the chief won't be too upset that you decided not 
to permit us to go ahead as planned." 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


"Look, I didn't say I was against it, it's only that I'm not sure any of our men 
would be willing to do it. We can't just pull them off their duty, you know." 

Vanity, Thy Name Is TV News Time 

"Why don't we leave it up to the two officers here? If they don't mind being filmed 
for TV while they go through a few routine police arrests, then maybe we could go 
ahead as the chief agreed we should." 

"No big thing, Sarge," said the younger officer, Joe Sparaco, combing his 
wavy black hair as he looked at the cameraman with his big camera resting 
snugly on his shoulder. "It's a slow Sunday morning, and this seems like it might 
be sort of interesting." 

"All right, the chief must know what he's doing; I don't want to make any 
trouble if everything's all set up already. But hear me, you better be ready to an- 
swer any calls and cut the experiment short if I need you." 

I chimed in, "Officers, would you spell your names for the TV man so that he 
can pronounce them right when the news report is shown tonight?" I needed to 
ensure their cooperation no matter what came up in Palo Alto before all of our 
prisoners had been arrested and gone through the formal booking process down 
here at headquarters. 

"Must be a pretty important experiment to have TV coverage and all, huh, 
Professor?" Officer Bob asked, straightening his tie and automatically fingering 
the handle of his gun. 

"I guess the TV people think so," I said, with full awareness of the precarious- 
ness of my perch, "what with surprise arrests by the police and all. It is a rather 
unusual experiment that might have some interesting effects; probably that's the 
reason the chief gave us the go-ahead. Here is a list of the names and addresses of 
each of the nine suspects to be arrested. I will be driving with Craig Haney, my 
graduate research assistant, behind your squad car. Drive slowly, so the camera- 
man can film your movements. Arrest one at a time using your standard operat- 
ing procedure, read them their Miranda rights, search them, and handcuff them, 
as you would any dangerous suspect. The charge is burglary for the first five sus- 
pects, a 459 Penal Code violation, and make it armed robbery for the next four 
arrests, a Section 21 1 Code. Return each one to headquarters for booking, finger- 
printing, filling out criminal identification cards, and whatever you usually do. 

"Then put each one in a detention cell while you pick up the next suspect on 
the list. We will transfer the prisoner from your holding cell to our jail. The only ir- 
regular thing we'd like you to do is to blindfold the prisoner when you put him into 
the holding cell, with one of these blindfolds. When we transfer him out, we don't 
want him to see us or know exactly where he is headed. Craig, with my other as- 
sistant, Curt Banks, and one of our guards, Vandy, will do the transport." 

"Sounds fine, Professor, Bob and I can handle it just fine, no problem." 


The Lucifer Effect 


We leave the sergeant's front office to go downstairs to check out the booking 
room — Joe and Bob, Craig, the cameraman, Bill, and I. Everything is spanking 
new; this unit was just constructed within the main Palo Alto City office center, a 
short distance but a far cry from the old jail, which had become run down, not 
from overuse but just old age. I wanted the officers and the cameraman to stay in- 
volved in the proceedings from the first arrest to the last to keep the arrests as stan- 
dardized as possible. I had debriefed the TV man earlier about the purpose of the 
study but done so in a cursory manner because my concern had been winning 
over the anticipated resistance of the duty sergeant. It occurred to me that I should 
lay out for all of them some of the procedural details of the study as well as some 
of the reasons for doing this kind of experiment. It would help create a team feel- 
ing and also show that I cared enough to take the time to answer their questions. 

"Do these kids know they are going to be arrested? Do we tell them it's part of 
an experiment or what?" 

"Joe, they have all volunteered for a study of prison life. They answered an ad 
we put in the newspapers calling for college students who want to earn fifteen dol- 
lars a day to participate in a two-week experiment on the psychology of imprison- 
ment, and — " 

"You mean to say these kids are getting paid fifteen bucks a day to do nothin' 
but sit in a jail cell for two weeks? Maybe Joe and I could volunteer. Sounds like 
easy money." 

"Maybe. Maybe it's easy money, and maybe if anything interesting turns up, 
we will do the study again, using some police officers as prisoners and guards, as 
I had told your chief." 

"Well, you can count on us if you do." 

"As I was saying, the nine students you are about to arrest were part of a 
large group of about a hundred men who answered our ads in the Palo Alto Times 
and The Stanford Daily. We screened out the obvious weirdos, the ones with prior 
arrests of any kind, and any with medical or mental problems. After an hourlong 
psychological assessment and in-depth interviews by my assistants, Craig Haney 
and Curt Banks, we selected twenty-four of these volunteers to be our research 

"Twenty-four times fifteen bucks times fourteen days is a lot of money you're 
gonna hafta pay out. It's not outta your pocket, is it, Doc?" 

"It comes to $5,040, but the research is supported by a government grant 
from the Office of Naval Research to study antisocial behavior, so I don't have to 
pay the salaries myself." 

"Did all the students want to be prison guards?" 

"Well, no, in fact no one wanted to be a guard; they all preferred to take the 
prisoner's role." 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


"How come? Seems like being a guard would be more fun and less hassle 
than being a prisoner, at least to me it does. Another thing is that fifteen bucks for 
twenty-four hours' work as a prisoner is peanuts. It's better pay for the guards if 
they only work usual shifts." 

"That's right, the guards are planning to work eight-hour shifts, with three 
crews of three guards around the clock covering the nine prisoners. But the rea- 
son why these students preferred being in the prisoner role is that they might at 
some time become a prisoner, for draft evasion or DUI charges, for example, or ar- 
rested in some protest for civil rights or against the war. Most of them said they 
could never imagine ever being a prison guard — they didn't go to college in the 
hope of becoming a prison guard. So although they are all participating primarily 
for the money, some of them also expect to learn something about how they will 
handle themselves in this novel prison situation." 

"How did you choose your guards? Bet you picked the biggest guys?" 

"No, Joe, we randomly assigned all the volunteers to each of the two condi- 
tions, like tossing a coin. If it came up heads, the volunteer was assigned to be a 
guard; if it was tails, a prisoner. The guards were told yesterday that they had 
come up heads. They came to our little jail in the basement of Stanford's Psy- 
chology Department to help us put the finishing touches on it, so that they would 
feel like it was their place. Each of them picked out a uniform at the local Army 
surplus store, and they are waiting now for the action to begin." 

"Did they get any training to be guards?" 

"Wish I had the time to do that, but all we did was give them a brief orienta- 
tion yesterday; no specific training in how to act their new role. The main thing is 
for them to maintain law and order, no violence against prisoners, and not allow 
any escapes. I also tried to convey to them the kind of psychological mind-set of 
prisoners being powerless that we want to create in this prison. 

"The kids you are going to arrest were simply told to wait at home, in a dor- 
mitory, or at some designated house if they lived too far away, and they would be 
hearing from us this morning." 

"And so they soon will, huh, Joe? We'll give 'em the real thing." 

"I'm a little confused about a couple of things." 

"Sure, fire away, Joe. You too, Bill, if there is something you want to know to 
help share later with your producer for tonight's show." 

"My question is this, Doc: What's the point of going through all the trouble 
to set up a prison of your own down at Stanford, arresting these college students, 
paying out all that money, when we already have prisons enough and criminals 
enough? Why not just observe what goes on in the county jail or the action over 
at San Quentin? Wouldn't that tell you what you want to know about guards and 
prisoners in real prisons?" 

Joe had hit the nail right on the head. Instantly I was into my college profes- 
sor role, eager to profess to curious listeners: "I'm interested in discovering what 
it means psychologically to be a prisoner or a prison guard. What changes does a 


The Lucifer Effect 

person undergo in the process of adapting to that new role? Is it possible in the 
short time of only a few weeks to take on a new identity that is different from one's 
usual self? 

"There have been studies of actual prison life by sociologists and criminolo- 
gists, but they suffer from some serious drawbacks. Those researchers are never 
free to observe all phases of prison life. Their observations are usually limited in 
scope, without much direct access to prisoners and even less to the guards. Since 
there are only two classes of people that populate prisons, staff and inmates, all 
researchers are outsiders viewed with suspicion, if not distrust, by all the system's 
insiders. They can see only what they are allowed to see on guided tours that 
rarely get beneath the surface of prison life. We'd like to better understand the 
deeper structure of the prisoner/guard relationship by re-creating the psychologi- 
cal environment of a prison, and then to be in a position to observe, record, and 
document the entire process of becoming indoctrinated into the mental set of 
prisoner and guard." 

"Yes, I guess it makes sense the way you put it," Bill chimes in, "but the big 
difference between your Stanford jail and real ones is the type of prisoners and 
guards you're starting out with. In a real prison, we're dealing with criminal 
types, violent guys who think nothing about breaking the law or attacking 
guards. And you gotta have tough guards to keep them in line, ready to break 
heads if necessary. Your sweet little Stanford kids aren't mean or violent or tough 
like real guards and prisoners are." 

"Let me throw in a zinger," says Bob. "How can you expect these college kids 
who know they're getting fifteen bucks a day for doing nothing will not just cool 
it for two weeks and have some fun and games at your expense, Doc?" 

"First, I should mention that our subjects are not all Stanford students, only 
a few are. The others come from all over the country and even from Canada. As 
you know, a lot of young people come to the Bay Area in the summer, and we've 
recruited a cross section of them who were just finishing summer school at Stan- 
ford or at Berkeley. But you're right in saying that the Stanford County Jail will not 
be populated with the usual prison types. We went out of our way to select young 
men who seemed to be normal, healthy, and average on all the psychological di- 
mensions we measured. Along with Craig, here, and another advanced graduate 
student, Curt Banks, I carefully selected our final sample from among all those we 

Craig, who had been waiting patiently for this sign of recognition from 
his mentor to get a word in edgewise, was ready to add to the thesis being laid 
down: "In a real prison, when we observe some event — for example, prisoners 
stabbing each other or a guard smashing an inmate — we can't determine the 
extent to which the particular person or the particular situation is responsible. 
There are indeed some prisoners who are violent sociopaths, and there are 
some guards who are sadistic. But do their personalities account for all or even 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


most of what goes on in prison? I doubt it. We have to take the situation into ac- 

I beamed at Craig's eloquent argument. I also shared the same dispositional 
doubt but felt reassured to have Craig put it so well to the police officers. I contin- 
ued, warming into my best minilecture style: 

"The rationale is this: our research will attempt to differentiate between what 
people bring into a prison situation from what the situation brings out in the peo- 
ple who are there. By preselection, our subjects are generally representative of 
middle-class, educated youth. They are a homogeneous group of students who 
are quite similar to each other in many ways. By randomly assigning them to the 
two different roles, we begin with 'guards' and 'prisoners' who are comparable — 
indeed, are interchangeable. The prisoners are not more violent, hostile, or rebel- 
lious than the guards, and the guards aren't more power-seeking authoritarians. 
At this moment 'prisoner' and 'guard' are one and alike. No one wanted to be a 
guard; no one really committed any crime that would justify imprisonment and 
punishment. In two weeks, will these youngsters still be so indistinguishable? Will 
their roles change their personalities? Will we see any transformations of their 
character? That's what we plan to discover." 

Craig added, "Another way of looking at it is, you're putting good people in an 
evil situation to see who or what wins." 

"Thanks, Craig, I like that," gushed Cameraman Bill. "My director will want 
to use that tonight as a tease. The station didn't have a communicaster available 
this morning, so I have to both shoot and also come up with some angles to hook 
the arrest footage on. Say, Professor, time is running. I'm ready, can we get started 

"Of course, Bill. But, Joe, I never did answer your first question about the ex- 

"Which was?" 

"Whether the prisoners knew they would be arrested as part of the experi- 
ment. The answer is no. They were merely told to be available for participation in 
the experiment this morning. They may assume that the arrest is part of the re- 
search since they know they did not commit the crimes for which they will be 
charged. If they ask you about the experiment, be vague, neither say it is or isn't. 
Just go about doing your duty as if it were a real arrest; ignore any of their ques- 
tions or protests." 

Craig couldn't resist adding, "In a sense, the arrest, like everything else they 
will be experiencing, should merge reality and illusion, role-playing and identity." 

A bit flowery. I thought, but certainly worth saying. Just before Joe started 
the siren on his all-white squad car, he put on his silver reflecting sunglasses, 
the kind the guard wore in the movie Cool Hand Luke, the kind that prevents any- 
one from seeing your eyes. I grinned, as did Craig, knowing that all our guards 
would also be donning the same anonymity-inducing goggles as part of our at- 


The Lucifer Effect 

tempt to create a sense of deindividuation. Art, life, and research were beginning 
to merge. 


"Momma, Momma, there's a policeman at the door and he's going to arrest Hub- 
bie!" screeched the youngest Whittlow girl. 

Mrs. Dexter Whittlow didn't quite hear the message, but from the sound of 
Nina's screech there was some sort of trouble that Father should attend to. 

"Please ask your father to see to it." Mrs. Whittlow was involved in examin- 
ing her conscience because she had many misgivings about the changes that had 
been taking place in the church services from which she had just returned. She 
had also been thinking a lot about Hubbie recently, preparing herself for a life of 
twice-a-year visits from her beautiful fuzzy-blond, blue-eyed charmer. One bless- 
ing of his going away to college that she secretly prayed for was the "out of sight, 
out of mind" effect that would cool the all-too-obvious passion between Hubbie 
and his girlfriend from Palo Alto High School. For men, a good career had to come 
before hasty marriage plans, she told him often. 

The only fault she could find in this lovable child was that he sometimes got 
carried away when he was with his friends, like last month, when they had 
painted the tile rooftops on the high school for pranks, or when they went about 
reversing and "ripping off' street signs. "It's plain silly and immature, Hubbie, 
and you could get in trouble for it!" 

"Momma, Dad's not home, he's over at the golf course with Mr. Marsden, 
and Hubbie's downstairs being arrested by a policeman!" 

"Hubbie Whittlow, you're wanted on a violation of Penal Code number 459, 
residential burglary. I'm going to take you to police headquarters for booking. Be- 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


fore I search and handcuff you, I must warn you of your rights as a citizen." 
(Mindful of the TV camera grinding away, recording for posterity this classic ar- 
rest, Joe was all Super Cop in stance and all Dragnet's cool Joe Friday in delivery.) 
"Let me make some facts clear: You have the right to remain silent and are not re- 
quired to answer any questions. Anything you say can and will be used against 
you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before you answer 
any questions, and an attorney may be present during the questioning. And if you 
have no funds to hire an attorney, the public defender will provide you with one to 
represent you at all stages of the proceedings. Do you understand your rights? 
Good. Having these rights in mind, I am taking you to Central Station for booking 
on the crime you are charged with. Now come peacefully over to the squad car." 

Mrs. Whittlow was stunned to see her son being body searched, handcuffed, 
and spread-eagled against the police car like a common criminal one sees on the 
TV news. Gathering her composure, she demanded courteously: "What is this all 
about, Officer?" 

"Ma'am, I have instructions to arrest Hubbie Whittlow on charges of bur- 
glary, he — " 

"I know, Officer, I told him not to take those street signs, that he shouldn't be 
influenced by those Jennings boys." 

"Momma, you don't understand, this is part of—" 

"Officer, Hubbie is a good boy. His father and I will be glad to pay for the costs 
of replacing anything that was taken. You see it was just a prank, nothing serious 

By now a small crowd of neighbors was gathering at a respectable distance, 
lured by the treat of a threat to someone's security or safety. Mrs. Whittlow made 
a special effort not to notice them so as not to be distracted from the task at hand, 
ingratiating herself with the police officer so he would be nicer to her son. "If only 
George were here, he'd know how to handle the situation," she thought. "This is 
what happens when golf comes before God on Sunday." 

"Okay, let's move along, we've got a busy schedule; there's a lot more arrests 
to be made this morning," Joe said as he moved the suspect into the squad car. 

"Momma, Dad knows all about it, ask him, he signed the release, it's all right, 
don't worry, it's just part of—" 

The wailing siren of the squad car and its flashing lights brought out even 
more curious neighbors to console poor Mrs. Whittlow, whose son seemed like 
such a nice boy. 

Hubbie felt uneasy for the first time, seeing his mother's distress and feeling 
guilty sitting there alone in the backseat of a cop car, handcuffed behind the cop's 
protective mesh screen. "So this is how it feels to be a criminal," he was thinking 
when his pink cheeks suddenly flushed with embarrassment as Neighbor Palmer 
pointed at him and exclaimed to his daughter, "What is this world coming to? 
Now it's the Whittlow boy who's committed a crime!" 

At the station, the booking procedure was dispatched with customary effi- 


The Lucifer Effect 

ciency, given the cooperativeness of the suspect. Officer Bob took charge of Hub- 
bie while Joe discussed with us how this first arrest had gone. I thought it had 
taken a little too long, considering that there were eight more to go. However, the 
cameraman wanted it to move more slowly so he could get positioned better since 
he had to shoot only a few good arrest sequences to convey the story. We agreed 
that the next arrest could be deliberate in its filmed sequences, but after that — 
good TV shots or not — the experiment would come first and the arrests would 
have to be sped up. Whittlow alone had already taken thirty minutes; at that rate 
it would take most of the day to complete the arrests. 

I was mindful that the police's cooperation was not independent of the power 
of the media, so I worried that once the filming was completed they might be re- 
luctant to follow through with all the remaining arrests on the list. Interesting as 
this part of the study was to observe, I knew that its success was not under my 
control. So many things could go wrong, most of which I had anticipated and tried 
to counteract, but there was always the unexpected event that could wipe out 
even the best-laid plans. There are too many uncontrolled variables in the real 
world, or the "field," as social scientists call it. That's the comfort of laboratory 
research: The experimenter is in charge. The action is all under exquisite con- 
trol. The subject is on the researcher's turf. It's as the police interrogation manuals 
caution: "Never interrogate suspects or witnesses in their homes; bring them to the 
station, where you can capitalize on the unfamiliarity, seize on the lack of social 
supports, and in addition, you need not worry about unplanned interruptions." 

I tried gently to urge the policeman to move a bit faster, but Bill kept intrud- 
ing with requests for one more shot, one more angle. Joe was blindfolding Hubbie. 
Form CI 1-6, Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, had been com- 
pleted with the required information and fall set of fingerprints, with only the 
mug shot remaining. We would do that with our Polaroid camera at our jail to 
save time, shooting after all prisoners were in their new uniforms. Hubbie had 
navigated through the booking process without comment or emotion after his 
first and only attempt at a joke had been rebuffed by Joe: "What are you, a wise 
guy or somethin'?" Now he was sitting in a small detention cell at Central Station, 
blindfolded, alone, and helpless, wondering why he had ever gotten himself into 
this mess and asking himself whether it was worth it. But he took solace in know- 
ing that if things got too tough to handle, his father and his cousin, the public de- 
fender, could be counted on to arrive and get him out of the contract. 


The next arrest scenario played itself out in a small Palo Alto apartment. 

"Doug, wake up, damn it, it's the police. One minute, please, he's coming. Get 
your pants on, will you." 

"What d'ya mean, the police? What do they want with us? Look Suzy, don't 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


get uptight, act cool, we haven't done anything they can prove. Let me do the talk- 
ing to the pigs. I know my rights. The fascists can't push us around." 

Sensing a troublemaker at hand, Officer Bob used his friendly persuasion ap- 

"Are you Mr. Doug Karlson?" 

"Yeah, what of it?" 

"I'm sorry, but you are suspected of Penal Code violation number 459, bur- 
glary, and I am taking you downtown to the station for booking. You have the 
right to remain silent, you have — " 

"Cut it, I know my rights, I'm not a college graduate for nothing. Where's the 
warrant for my arrest?" 

As Bob was thinking about how to handle this problem tactfully, Doug heard 
the nearby church bells tolling. "It's Sunday!" He had forgotten it was Sunday! 

He said to himself, "Prisoner, huh, so that's the game? I prefer it, didn't go to 
college to become a pig, but I might get ripped off by the police someday, like I al- 
most did at last year's antiwar riots at Cal. As I told the interviewer — Haney, I 
think it was — I don't want this for the money and not the experience because the 
whole idea sounds ridiculous, and I don't think it will work, but I'd like to see how 
I deal with being oppressed as a political prisoner. 

"I have to laugh when I think of their silly question 'Estimate the likelihood 
of your remaining in the prison experiment for the full two weeks, on a to 1 00 
percent scale.' For me, 100 percent, with no sweat. It's not a real prison, only a 
simulated prison. If I don't dig it, I quit, just walk away. And I wonder how they 
reacted to my answer to 'What would you like to be doing ten years from now?' 
My ideal occupation, which I hope would entail an active part in the world's 
future — the revolution.' " 

"Who am I? What is unique about me? How's my straight-from-the-shoulder 
answer: 'From a religious perspective, I'm an atheist. From a "conventional" per- 
spective, I'm a fanatic. From a political perspective, I'm a socialist. From a mental 
health perspective, I'm healthy. From an existential-social perspective, I'm split, 
dehumanized, and detached — and I don't cry much.' " 

Doug was reflecting on the oppression of the poor and the need to seize power 
back from the capitalist-military rulers of this country as he sat defiantly in the 
rear of the squad car on its swift journey to the station house. "It's good to be a 
prisoner," he thought. "All the exciting revolutionary ideas have come out of the 
prison experience." He felt a kinship with Soledad Brother George Jackson, liked 
his letters, and knew that in the solidarity of all oppressed people lies the strength 
to win the revolution. Maybe this little experiment would be the first step in train- 
ing his mind and body for the eventual struggle against the fascists ruling 

The booking officer ignored Doug's flippant comments as his height, weight, 
and fingerprints were efficiently recorded. He was all business. Joe easily rolled 


The Lucifer Effect 

each finger to get a clear set of fingerprints even when Doug tried to make his 
hand rigid. Doug was a bit surprised at how strong the pig was, or maybe he was 
just a little weak from hunger since he hadn't had any breakfast yet. Out of 
somber proceedings evolved a slightly paranoid thought: "Hey, maybe those rat 
finks at Stanford really turned me in to the cops. What a fool I was, giving them so 
much personal background that they might use against me." 

"Hey, Copper," Doug called out in his high-pitched voice, "tell me again, what 
am I charged with?" 

"Burglary. On a first conviction, you could be paroled in a couple of years." 


The next scenario occurs at the designated pickup place for Tom Thompson, the 
porch of my secretary, Rosanne. Tom was built like a baby bull, five feet, eight 
inches tall, 170 pounds of solid muscle under his crew cut. If there were ever a 
no-nonsense person, it was this eighteen-year-old soldier boy. When we had asked 
him in our interview, "What would you like to be doing ten years from now?" his 
reply was surprising: "Where and what are unimportant — the kind of work would 
involve organization and efficiency producing in unorganized and inefficient 
areas of our government." 

Marital plans: "I plan to marry only after I am solid financially." 

Any therapy, drugs, tranquilizers, or criminal experience? "I have never com- 
mitted a criminal act. I still remember the experience when I was five or six of see- 
ing my father take a piece of candy to eat in a store while shopping. I was 
ashamed of his act." 

In order to save on rent money, Tom Thompson had been sleeping in the 
backseat of his car, accommodations that were neither comfortable nor well 
suited to studying. Recently he had had to "fight off a spider that bit me twice, 
once on the eye and once on the lip." Nevertheless, he had just completed a full 
summer school course load in order to advance his credit standing. He was also 
working forty-five hours a week at assorted jobs and eating leftover food at the 
student food service to save up for next fall's tuition. As a result of his tenacity and 
frugality, Tom planned to graduate six months early. He was also bulking up by 
exercising seriously in his spare time, which apparently he had a lot of given his 
total absence of dates or close friends. 

To be a paid participant in the prison study was the ideal job for Tom since his 
studies and summer jobs were now over and he needed the money. Three square 
meals a day, a real bed, and maybe a hot shower were like winning the lottery. 
However, more than anything else — or anyone else — he envisioned the next two 
weeks as a paid vacation. 

He had not been doing squats for long on the porch at 450 Kingsley Street, 
where he was waiting to start his stint in our experiment, before the squad car 
pulled up behind his '65 Chevy. At a distance was Haney's Fiat with the un- 

Sunday's Surprise Arrests 


daunted cameraman filming what was to be the last outside arrest. After this, 
he'd get more interior footage in the station, then over at our mock prison. Bill 
was eager to get back to KRON with some hot video for what is usually a tame 
Sunday-evening news show. 

"I'm Tom Thompson, sir. I am prepared to be arrested without any resis- 

Bob was leery of this one; he might be some kind of nut who wanted to prove 
something with his karate lessons. The handcuffs were slapped on right away, 
even before Miranda rights were read. And his search for concealed weapons was 
more thorough than it had been with the others because he had a funny feeling 
about guys who showed this particular kind of nonresistance. It was too cocky, 
too self-assured for someone facing an arrest; usually it meant a trap of some 
kind: the dude was packing a gun, a false-arrest charge was in the making, or 
there was something else out of the ordinary. "I'm no psychologist," Joe told me 
later, "but there is something off the wall about that guy Thompson, he's like a 
military drill officer — a sergeant in the enemy." 

Fortunately, there were no crimes that Sunday in Palo Alto, or cats stranded 
up trees, to summon Bob and Joe away from finishing their ever-more-efficient ar- 
rest procedures. By early afternoon all of our prisoners had been booked and 
taken down to our jail, to the eager waiting arms of our guards-in-the-making. 
These young men would be leaving this sunny Palo Alto paradise, going down a 
short concrete staircase into the transformed basement of the Psychology De- 
partment in Jordan Hall, on Serra Street. For some it would become a descent 
into Hell. 


Let Sunday's Degradation 
Rituals Begin 

As each of the blindfolded prisoners is escorted down the flight of steps in front 
of Jordan Hall into our little jail, our guards order them to strip and remain stand- 
ing naked with their arms outstretched against the wall and legs spread apart. 
They hold that uncomfortable position for a long time as the guards ignore them 
because they are busy with last-minute chores, like packing away the prisoners' 
belongings for safekeeping, fixing up their guards quarters, and arranging beds in 
the three cells. Before being given his uniform, each prisoner is sprayed with pow- 
der, alleged to be a delouser, to rid him of lice that might be brought in to contam- 
inate our jail. Without any staff encouragement, some guards begin to make fun 
of the prisoners' genitals, remarking on their small penis size or laughing at their 
unevenly hanging testicles. Such a guy thing! 

Still blindfolded, each prisoner is then given his uniform, nothing fancy, just 
a smock, like a tan muslin dress, with numbers on front and back for identifica- 
tion. The numbers have been sewn on from sets we bought from a Boy Scout sup- 
ply store. A woman's nylon stocking serves as a cap covering the long hair of 
many of these prisoners. It is a substitute for the head shaving that is part of the 
newcomer ritual in the military and some prisons. Covering the head is also a 
method of erasing one of the markers of individuality and promoting greater 
anonymity among the prisoner caste. Next, each prisoner dons a pair of rubber 
clogs, and a locked chain is attached to one ankle — a constant reminder of im- 
prisonment. Even when he is asleep, the prisoner will be reminded of his status 
when the chain hits his foot as he turns in his sleep. The prisoners are allowed no 
underwear, so when they bend over their behinds show. 

When the prisoners have been fully outfitted, the guards remove the blind- 
folds so that the prisoners can reflect on their new look in the full-length mirror 
propped against the wall. A Polaroid photo documents each prisoner's identity on 
an official booking form, where an ID number replaces "Name" on the form. The 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


humiliation of being a prisoner has begun, much as it does in many institutions 
from military boot camps to prisons, hospitals, and low-level jobs. 

"Don't move your head; don't move your mouth; don't move your hands; 
don't move your feet; and don't move anything. Now shut up, and stay where you 
are," barks Guard Arnett in his first show of authority. 1 He and the other day shift 
guards, J. Landry and Markus, are already starting to wield their police billy clubs 
in menacing positions as they undress and outfit the prisoners. The first four pris- 
oners are lined up and told some of the basic rules, which the guards and the 
warden had formulated during the guard orientation on the previous day. "I don't 
like the warden to correct my work," says Arnett, "so I will make it desirable for 
you not to have to correct me. Listen carefully to these rules. You must address 
prisoners by number and by number only. Address guards as 'Mr. Correctional 
Officer.' " 

As more prisoners are brought into the Yard, they are similarly deloused, 
outfitted, and made to join their fellows standing against the wall for indoctrina- 
tion. The guards are trying to be very serious. "Some of you prisoners already 
know the rules, but others of you have shown you don't know how to act, so you 
need to learn them." Each rule is read slowly, seriously, and authoritatively. The 


The Lucifer Effect 

prisoners are slouching, shuffling, gazing around this strange new world. "Stand 
up straight, number 7258. Hands at your sides, prisoners." 

Arnett begins to quiz the prisoners on the rules. He is demanding and critical, 
working hard to set a serious tone in official military manner. His style seems to 
say that he is just doing his job, nothing personal intended. But the prisoners are 
having none of that; they are giggling, laughing, not taking him seriously. They 
are hardly into playing their role as prisoners — yet. 

"No laughing!" orders Guard J. Landry. Stocky, with long, shaggy blond hair, 
Landry is about six inches shorter than Arnett, who is a tall, slim fellow with 
aquiline features, dark brown curly hair, and tightly pursed lips. 

Suddenly, Warden David Jaffe enters the jail. "Stand at attention against this 
wall for the full rule reading," says Arnett. Jaffe, who is actually one of my under- 
graduate Stanford students, is a little guy, maybe five feet five, but he seems to be 
taller than usual, standing very erect, shoulders back, head held high. He is al- 
ready into his role as the warden. 

I am watching the proceedings from a small scrim-covered window behind 
a partition that conceals our videocamera, Ampex taping system, and a tiny 
viewing space at the south end of the Yard. Behind the scrim, Curt Banks and 
others on our research team will record a series of special events throughout 
the next two weeks, such as meals, prisoner count-offs, visits by parents, friends, 
and a prison chaplain, and any disturbances. We don't have sufficient funds 
to record continuously so we do so judiciously. This is also the site where we ex- 
perimenters and other observers can look in on the action without disturbing it 
and without anyone being aware of when we are taping or watching. We can ob- 
serve and tape-record only that action taking place directly in front of us in the 

Although we cannot see into the cells, we can listen. The cells are bugged 
with audio devices that enable us to eavesdrop on some of the prisoners' talk. The 
prisoners are not aware of the hidden microphones concealed behind the indirect 
lighting panels. This information will be used to let us know what they are think- 
ing and feeling when in private, and what kinds of things they share with one an- 
other. It may also be useful in identifying prisoners who need special attention 
because they are becoming overly stressed. 

I am amazed at Warden Jaffe's pontificating and surprised at seeing him all 
dressed up for the first time in a sports jacket and tie. His clothing is rare for stu- 
dents in these hippie days. Nervously, he twirls his big Sonny Bono mustache, as 
he gets into his new role. I have told Jaffe that this is the time for him to introduce 
himself to this new group of prisoners as their warden. He is a bit reluctant be- 
cause he is not a demonstrative kind of guy; he is lower-key, quietly intense. 
Because he was out of town, he did not take part in our extensive setup plans but 
arrived just yesterday, in time for the guard orientation. Jaffe felt a little out of the 
loop, especially since Craig and Curt were graduate students, while he was only 
an undergraduate. Perhaps he also felt uneasy because he was the littlest one 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


among our otherwise all six-foot-plus -tall staff. But he stiffens his spine and 
comes on as strong and serious. 

"As you probably already know, I am your warden. All of you have shown 
that you are unable to function outside in the real world for one reason or an- 
other. Somehow, you lack the sense of responsibility of good citizens of this great 
country. We in this prison, your correctional staff, are going to help you to learn 
what your responsibility as citizens of this country is. You heard the rules. Some- 
time in the very near future there will be a copy of the rules posted in each cell. We 
expect you to know them and be able to recite them by number. If you follow all of 
these rules, keep your hands clean, repent for your misdeeds, and show a proper 
attitude of penitence, then you and I will get along just fine. Hopefully I won't 
have to be seeing you too often." 

It was an amazing improvisation, followed by an order from Guard Markus, 
talking up for the first time: "Now you thank the warden for his fine speech to 
you." In unison, the nine prisoners shout their thanks to the warden but without 
much sincerity. 


The time has come to impose some formality on the situation by exposing to the 
new prisoners the set of rules that will govern their behavior for the next few 
weeks. With all the guards giving some input, Jaffe worked out these rules in an 
intense session yesterday at the end of the guard orientation/ 


The Lucifer Effect 

Guard Arnett talks it over with Warden Jaffe, and they decide that Arnett will 
read the full set of the rules aloud — his first step in dominating the day shift. He 
begins slowly and with precise articulation. The seventeen rules are: 

1 . Prisoners must remain silent during rest periods, after lights out, during 
meals, and whenever they are outside the prison yard. 

2. Prisoners must eat at mealtimes and only at mealtimes. 

3. Prisoners must participate in all prison activities. 

4. Prisoners must keep their cell clean at all times. Beds must be made and 
personal effects must be neat and orderly. Floors must be spotless. 

5. Prisoners must not move, tamper with, deface, or damage walls, ceilings, 
windows, doors, or any prison property. 

6. Prisoners must never operate cell lighting. 

7. Prisoners must address each other by number only. 

8. Prisoners must always address the guards as "Mr. Correctional Officer" 
and the Warden as "Mr. Chief Correctional Officer." 

9. Prisoners must never refer to their condition as an "experiment" or "simu- 
lation." They are imprisoned until paroled. 

"We are halfway there. I hope you are paying close attention, because you 
will commit each and every one of these rules to memory, and we will test at ran- 
dom intervals," the guard forewarns his new charges. 

10. Prisoners will be allowed 5 minutes in the lavatory. No prisoner will be al- 
lowed to return to the lavatory within 1 hour after a scheduled lavatory 
period. Lavatory visitations are controlled by the guards. 

1 1 . Smoking is a privilege. Smoking will be allowed after meals or at the dis- 
cretion of the guard. Prisoners must never smoke in the cells. Abuse of 
the smoking privilege will result in permanent revocation of the smoking 

12. Mail is a privilege. All mail flowing in and out of the prison will be in- 
spected and censored. 

1 3 . Visitors are a privilege. Prisoners who are allowed a visitor must meet him 
or her at the door to the yard. The visit will be supervised by a guard, and 
the guard may terminate the visit at his discretion. 

14. All prisoners in each cell will stand whenever the warden, the prison 
superintendent, or any other visitors arrive on the premises. Prisoners 
will wait on orders to be seated or to resume activities. 

15. Prisoners must obey all orders issued by guards at all times. A guard's 
order supersedes any written order. A warden's order supersedes both the 
guard's orders and the written rules. Orders of the superintendent of the 
prison are supreme. 

16. Prisoners must report all rule violations to the guards. 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


"Last, but the most important, rule for you to remember at all times is num- 
ber seventeen," adds Guard Arnett in an ominous warning: 

17. Failure to obey any of the above rules may result in punishment. 

Later on in the shift, Guard J. Landry decides that he wants some of the ac- 
tion and rereads the rules, adding his personal embellishment: "Prisoners are a 
part of a correctional community. In order to keep the community running 
smoothly, you prisoners must obey the following rules." 

Jaffe nods in agreement; he already likes to think of this as a prison commu- 
nity, in which reasonable people giving and following rules can live harmo- 

The First Count in This Strange Place 

According to the plan developed by the guards at their orientation meeting the 
day before, Guard J. Landry continues the process of establishing the guards' 
authority by giving instructions for the count. "Okay, to familiarize yourselves 
with your numbers, we are going to have you count them off from left to right, 
and fast." The prisoners shout out their numbers, which are arbitrary four- or 
three-digit numbers on the front of their smocks. "That was pretty good, but I'd 
like to see them at attention." The prisoners reluctantly stand erect at attention. 
"You were too slow in standing tall. Give me ten push-ups." (Push-ups soon be- 
come a staple in the guards' control and punishment tactics.) "Was that a smile?" 
Jaffe asks. "I can see that smile from down here. This is not funny, this is serious 
business that you have gotten yourselves into." Jaffe soon leaves the Yard to come 
around back to confer with us on how he did in his opening scene. Almost in uni- 
son, Craig, Curt, and I give him a pat on the ego: "Right on, Dave, way to go!" 

Initially the purpose of counts, as in all prisons, is an administrative necessity 
to ensure that all prisoners are present and accounted for, that none has escaped 
or is still in his cell sick or needing attention. In this case, the secondary purpose 
of the counts is for prisoners to familiarize themselves with their new numbered 
identity. We want them to begin thinking of themselves, and the others, as prison- 
ers with numbers, not people with names. What is fascinating is how the nature 
of the counts is transformed over time from routine memorizing and reciting of 
IDs to an open forum for guards to display their total authority over the prisoners. 
As both groups of student research participants, who are initially interchange- 
able, get into their roles, the counts provide public demonstration of the transfor- 
mation of characters into guards and prisoners. 

The prisoners are finally sent into their cells to memorize the rules and get ac- 
quainted with their new cellmates. The cells, designed to emphasize the ambient 
anonymity of prison living conditions, are actually reconstructed small offices, 
ten by twelve feet in size. For the office furniture we substituted three cots, pushed 
together side by side. The cells are totally barren of any other furniture, except for 


The Lucifer Effect 

Cell 3, which has a sink and faucet, which we have turned off but which the 
guards can turn back on at will to reward designated good prisoners put into that 
special cell. The office doors were replaced with specially made black doors fitted 
with a row of iron bars down a central window, with each of the three cell num- 
bers prominently displayed on the door. 

The cells run the length of the wall down the right side of the Yard, as it ap- 
pears from our vantage point behind the one-way observation screen. The Yard is 
a long, narrow corridor, nine feet wide and thirty-eight feet long. There are no 
windows, simply indirect neon lighting. The only entrance and exit is at the far 
north end of the corridor, opposite our observation wall. Because there is 
only a single exit, we have several fire extinguishers handy in case of a fire, by 
order of the Stanford University Human Subjects Research Committee, which re- 
viewed and approved our research. (However, fire extinguishers can also become 

Yesterday, the guards posted signs on the walls of the Yard, designating this 
"The Stanford County Jail." Another sign forbade smoking without permission, 
and a third indicated, ominously, the location of solitary confinement, "the Hole." 
Solitary consisted of a small closet in the wall opposite the cells. It had been used 
for storage, and its file boxes took up all but about a square yard of open space. 
That is where unruly prisoners would spend time as punishment for various of- 
fenses. In this small space, prisoners would stand, squat, or sit on the floor in total 
darkness for the length of time ordered by a guard. They would be able to hear the 
goings-on outside on the Yard and hear all too well anyone banging on the doors 
of the Hole. 

The prisoners are sent to their arbitrarily assigned cells: Cell 1 is for 340 1 , 
5704, and 7258; Cell 2 is for 819, 1037, and 8612; while Cell 3 houses 2093, 
4325, and 5486. In one sense, this is like a prisoner-of-war situation wherein a 
number of the enemy are captured and imprisoned as a unit, rather than like a 
civilian prison, where there is a preexistent prisoner community into which each 
new inmate is socialized and into which prisoners are always entering and being 
paroled out of. 

All in all, our prison was a much more humane facility than most POW 
camps — and certainly more commodious, clean, and orderly than the hard site at 
Abu Ghraib Prison (which, by the way, Saddam Hussein made notorious for tor- 
ture and murder long before American soldiers did more recently). Yet, despite its 
relative "comfort," this Stanford prison would become the scene of abuses that 
eerily foreshadowed the abuses of Abu Ghraib by Army Reserve Military Police 
years later. 

Role Adjustments 

It takes a while for the guards to get into their roles. From the Guard Shift Reports, 
made at the end of each of the three different shifts, we learn that Guard Vandy 
feels uneasy, not sure what it takes to be a good guard, wishes he had been given 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


some training, but thinks it is a mistake to be too nice to the prisoners. Guard 
Geoff Landry, kid brother of J. Landry, reports feeling guilty during the humiliat- 
ing degradation rituals in which the prisoners had to stand naked for a long time 
in uncomfortable positions. He is sorry that he did not try to stop some things of 
which he did not approve. Instead of raising an objection, he just left the Yard as 
often as possible rather than continue to experience these unpleasant interac- 
tions. Guard Arnett, a graduate student in sociology, who is a few years older than 
the others, doubts that the prisoner induction is having its desired effect. He 
thinks that the security on his shift is bad and the other guards are being too po- 
lite. Even after this first day's brief encounters, Arnett is able to single out those 
prisoners who are troublemakers and those who are "acceptable." He also points 
out something that we missed in our observations but Officer Joe had remarked 
about during the arrest of Tom Thompson — a concern about Prisoner 2093. 

Arnett doesn't like the fact that Tom-2093 is "too good" in his "rigid adher- 
ence to all orders and regulations.'" (Indeed, 2093 will later be disparagingly 
nicknamed "Sarge" by the other prisoners precisely because of his militaristic 
style of obediently following orders. He has brought some strong values into our 
situation that may come into conflict with those of the guards, something to no- 
tice as we go along. Recall that it was something also noticed about Tom by the ar- 
resting police officer.) 

In contrast, Prisoner 819 considers the whole situation quite "amusing." 4 
He found the first counts rather enjoyable, "just a joke," and he felt that some of 
the guards did as well. Prisoner 1037 had watched as all the others were 
processed in the same humiliating fashion as he was. However, he refused to take 
any of it seriously. He was more concerned with how hungry he had become, 
having eaten only a small breakfast and expecting to be fed lunch, which never 
came. He assumed that the failure to provide lunch was another arbitrary pun- 
ishment inflicted by the guards, despite the fact that most prisoners had been well 
behaved. In truth, we had simply forgotten to pick up lunch because the arrests 
had taken so long and there was so much for us to deal with, which included a 
last-minute cancellation by one of the students assigned to the guard role. Fortu- 
nately, we got a replacement from the original pool of screened applicants for the 
night shift, Guard Burdan. 

The Night Shift Takes Over 

The night shift guards arrive before their starting time at 6 P.M. to don their new 
uniforms, try on the sleek silver reflecting sunglasses, and equip themselves with 
whistles, handcuffs, and billy clubs. They report to the Guards' Office, located 
down a few steps from the entrance to the Yard, in a corridor that also houses the 
offices of the warden and the superintendent, each with his own sign printed on 
the door. There the day shift guards greet their new buddies, tell them that every- 
thing is under control and everything is in place, but add that some prisoners are 
not yet fully with the program. They deserve watching, and pressure should be 


The Lucifer Effect 

applied to get them into line. "We're gonna do that just fine, you'll see a straight 
line when you come back tomorrow," boasts one of the newcomer guards. 

The first meal is finally served at seven o'clock. It's a simple one, offered cafe- 
teria style on a table set out in the Yard. 5 There is room for only six inmates at the 
table, so when they finish the remaining three come to eat what is left. Right off, 
Prisoner 8612 tries to talk the others into going on a sit-down strike to protest 
these "unacceptable" prison conditions, but they are all too hungry and tired to 
go along right now. 8612 is wise guy Doug Karlson, the anarchist who gave the 
arresting cops some lip. 

Back in their cells, the prisoners are ordered to remain silent, but 819 and 
8612 disobey, talk loudly and laugh, and get away with it — for now. Prisoner 
5704, the tallest of the lot, has been silent until now, but his tobacco addiction 
has gotten to him, and he demands that his cigarettes be returned to him. He's 
told that he has to earn the right to smoke by being a good prisoner. 5704 chal- 
lenges this principle, saying it is breaking the rules, but to no avail. According to 
the rules of the experiment, any participant could leave at any time, but this 
seems to have been forgotten by the disgruntled prisoners. They could have used 
the threat to quit as a tactic to improve their conditions or reduce the mindless 
hassling they endured, but they did not as they slowly slipped more deeply into 
their roles. 

Warden Jaffe's final official task of this first day is to inform the prisoners 
about Visiting Nights, which are coming up soon. Any prisoners who have friends 
or relatives in the vicinity should write to them about coming to visit. He describes 
the letter-writing procedures and gives each one who asks for it a pen, Stanford 
County Jail stationery, and a stamped envelope. They are to complete their letters 
and return these materials by the end of the brief "writing period." He makes it 
clear that the guards have discretion to decide whether anyone will not be allowed 
to write a letter, because he has failed to follow the rules, did not know his pris- 
oner ID number, or for any other reason a guard may have. Once the letters are 
written and handed to the guards, the prisoners are ordered back out of their cells 
for the first count on the night shift. Of course, the staff reads each letter for secu- 
rity purposes, also making copies for our files before mailing them out. The lure of 
Visiting Night and the mail, then, become tools that the guards use instinctively 
and effectively to tighten their control on the prisoners. 

The New Meaning of Counts 

Officially, as far as I was concerned, the counts were supposed to serve two func- 
tions: to familiarize the prisoners with their ID numbers and to establish that 
all prisoners were accounted for at the start of each guard shift. In many prisons, 
the counts also serve as a means of disciplining the prisoners. Though the first 
count started out innocently enough, our nightly counts and their early-morning 
counterparts would eventually escalate into tormenting experiences. 

"Okay, boys, now we are going to have a little count! Going to be a lot of fun," 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


Guard Hellmann tells them with a big grin. Guard Geoff Landry quickly adds, 
"The better you do it, the shorter it'll be." As the weary prisoners file out into the 
yard, they are silent and sullen, not looking at one another. It has already been a 
long day, and who knows what's in store before they can finally get a good night's 

Geoff Landry takes command: "Turn around, hands against the wall. No 
talking ! You want this to last all night? We're going to do this until you get it right. 
Start by counting off in ones." Hellmann adds his two cents: "I want you to do it 
fast, and I want you to do it loud." The prisoners obey. "I didn't hear it very well, 
we'll have to do it again. Guys, that was awful slow, so once again." "That's right," 
Landry chimes in, "we'll have to do it again." As soon as a few numbers are called 
out, Hellmann yells, "Stop! Is that loud? Maybe you didn't hear me right, I said 
loud, and I said clear." "Let's see if they can count backwards. Now try it from the 
other end," Landry says playfully. "Hey! I don't want anybody laughing!" Hell- 
mann says gruffly. "We'll be here all night until we get it right." 

Some of the prisoners are becoming aware that a struggle for dominance is 
going on between these two guards, Hellmann and the younger Landry. Prisoner 
819, who has not been taking any of this seriously, begins to laugh aloud as 
Landry and Hellmann one-up each other at the prisoners' expense. "Hey, did I say 
that you could laugh, 819? Maybe you didn't hear me right." Hellmann is getting 
angry for the first time. He gets right up in the prisoner's face, leans on him, and 
pushes him back with his billy club. Now Landry pushes his fellow guard aside 
and commands 819 to do twenty push-ups, which he does without comment. 

Hellmann moves back to center stage: "This time, sing it. " As the prisoners 
start to count off again, he interrupts. "Didn't I say that you had to sing? Maybe 
you gentlemen have those stocking caps too tight around your head and you 
can't hear me too well." He is becoming more creative in control techniques and 
dialogue. He turns on Prisoner 1037 for singing his number off key and demands 
twenty jumping jacks. After he finishes, Hellmann adds, "Would you do ten more 
for me? And don't make that thing rattle so much this time." Because there is no 
way to do jumping jacks without the ankle chain making noise, the commands 
are becoming arbitrary, but the guards are beginning to take pleasure in giving 
commands and forcing the prisoners to execute them. 

Even though it is funny to have the prisoners singing numbers, the two 
guards alternate in saying "There's nothing funny about it" and complaining 
"Oh, that's terrible, really bad." "Now once more," Hellmann tells them. "I'd like 
you to sing, I want it to sound sweet. " Prisoner after prisoner is ordered to do more 
push-ups for being too slow or too sour. 

When the replacement guard, Burdan, appears with the warden, the dy- 
namic duo of Hellmann and Landry immediately switches to having the prison- 
ers count off by their prison ID numbers and not just their lineup numbers from 
one to nine, as they had been doing, which of course, made no official sense. Now 
Hellmann insists that they can't look at their numbers when they count since by 


The Lucifer Effect 

now they should have memorized them. If anyone of the prisoners gets his num- 
ber wrong, the punishment is a dozen push-ups for everyone. Still competing with 
Landry for dominance in the guards' pecking order, Hellmann becomes ever more 
arbitrary: "I don't like the way you count when you're going down. I want you to 
count when you're going up. Do ten more push-ups for me, will you, 5486." The 
prisoners are clearly complying with orders more and more quickly. But that just 
reinforces the guards' desire to demand more of them. Hellmann: "Well, that's 
just great. Why don't you sing it this time? You men don't sing very well, it just 
doesn't sound too sweet to me." Landry: "I don't think they're keeping very good 
time. Make it nice and sweet, make it a pleasure to the ear." 819 and 5486 con- 
tinue to mock the process but, oddly, comply with the guards' demands to perform 
many jumping jacks as their punishment. 

The new guard, Burdan, gets into the act even more quickly than did the 
other guards, but he has had on-the-job training watching his two role models 
strut their stuff. "Oh, that was pretty! Now, that's the way I want you to do it. 
340 1 , come out here and do a solo, tell us what your number is!" Burdan goes be- 
yond what his fellow guards have been doing by physically pulling prisoners out 
of line to sing their solos in front of the others. 

Prisoner Stew-819 has become marked. He has been made to sing a solo 
tune, again and again, but his song is deemed never "sweet enough." The guards 
banter back and forth: "He sure doesn't sound sweet!" "No, he doesn't sound 
sweet to me at all." "Ten more." Hellmann appreciates Burdan's beginning to act 
like a guard, but he is not ready to relinquish control to him or to Landry. He asks 
the prisoners to recite the number of the prisoner next down in line to them. 
When they don't know it, as most do not, ever more push-ups. 

"5486, you sound real tired. Can't you do any better? Let's have five more." 
Hellmann has come up with a creative new plan to teach Jerry-5486 his number 
in an unforgettable way: "First do five push-ups, then four jumping jacks, then 
eight push-ups and six jumping jacks, just so you will remember exactly what that 
number is, 5486." He is becoming more cleverly inventive in designing punish- 
ments, the first signs of creative evil. 

Landry has withdrawn to the far side of the Yard, apparently ceding domi- 
nance to Hellmann. As he does, Burdan moves in to fill the space, but instead of 
competing with Hellmann, he supports him, typically either adding to his com- 
mands or elaborating upon them. But Landry is not out of it yet. He moves back 
in and demands another number count. Not really satisfied with the last one, he 
tells the nine tired prisoners to count off now by twos, then by threes, and up and 
up. He is obviously not as creative as Hellmann but competitive nevertheless. 
5486 is confused and made to do more and more push-ups. Hellmann interrupts, 
"I'd have you do it by 7s, but I know you're not that smart, so come over and get 
your blankets." Landry tries to continue: "Wait, wait, hold it. Hands against the 
wall." But Hellmann will have none of that and, in a most authoritative fashion, 
ignores Landry's last order and dismisses the prisoners to get sheets and blankets, 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


make their beds, and stay in their cells until further notice. Hellmann, who has 
taken charge of the keys, locks them in. 


At the end of his shift, as he is leaving the Yard, Hellmann yells out to the prison- 
ers, "All right, gentlemen, did you enjoy our counts?" "No sir!" "Who said that?" 
Prisoner 8612 owns up to that remark, saying he was raised not to tell a lie. All 
three guards rush into Cell 2 and grab 8612, who is giving the clenched-fist 
salute of dissident radicals as he shouts, 'All power to the people!" He is dumped 
into the Hole — with the distinction of being its first occupant. The guards show 
that they are united about one principle: they will not tolerate any dissent. Landry 
now follows up on Hellmann's previous question to the prisoners. "AH right, did 
you enjoy your count?" "Yes sir." "Yes sir, what?" "Yes sir, Mr. Correctional Offi- 
cer." "That's more like it." Since no one else is willing to openly challenge their 
authority, the three caballeros walk down the hall in formation, as though in a 
military parade. Before going off to the guards' quarters, Hellmann peers into 
Cell 2 to remind its occupants that "I want these beds in real apple pie order." 
Prisoner 5486 later reported feeling depressed when 8612 was put into the Hole. 
He also felt guilty for not having done anything to intervene. But he rationalized 
his behavior in not wanting to sacrifice his comfort or get thrown into solitary as 
well by reminding himself that "it's only an experiment.'" 

Before lights out at 10 P.M. sharp, prisoners are allowed their last toilet privi- 
lege of the night. To do so requires permission, and one by one, or two by two, they 
are blindfolded and led to the toilet — out the entrance to the prison and around 
the corridor by a circuitous route through a noisy boiler room to confuse them 
about both its location and their own. Later, this inefficient procedure will be 
streamlined as all prisoners tread this toilet route ensemble, and it might include 
an elevator ride for further confusion. 

At first, Prisoner Tom-2093 says he needs more than the brief time allocated 
because he can't urinate since he is so tense. The guards refuse, but the other pris- 
oners unify in their insistence that he be allowed sufficient time. "It was a matter 
of establishing that there were certain things that we wanted," 5486 later defi- 
antly reported. 7 Small events like this one are what can combine to give a new col- 
lective identity to prisoners as something more than a collection of individuals 
trying to survive on their own. Rebel Doug-8612 feels that the guards are obvi- 
ously role-playing, that their behavior is just a joke, but that they are "going over- 
board." He will continue his efforts to organize the other prisoners so they will 
have more power. In contrast, our fair-haired-boy prisoner, Hubbie-7258, reports 
that "As the day goes on, I wish I was a guard.'" Not surprisingly, none of the 
guards wishes to be a prisoner. 

Another rebellious prisoner, 819, showed his stuff in his letter to his family, 
asking them to come to Visiting Night. He signed it, 'All power to the oppressed 


The Lucifer Effect 

brothers, victory is inevitable. No kidding, I am as happy here as a prisoner can 
be!'" While playing cards in their quarters, the night shift guards and the warden 
decide on a plan for the first count of the morning shift that will distress the pris- 
oners. Shortly after the start of their shift, the guards will stand close to the cell 
doors and awaken their charges with loud, shrieking whistles. This will also 
quickly get the new guard shift energized into their roles and disturb the sleep of 
the prisoners at the same time. Landry, Burdan, and Hellmann all like that plan 
and as they continue playing discuss how they can be better guards the following 
night. Hellmann thinks it is all "fun and games." He has decided to act like "hot 
shit" from now on, "to play a more domineering role," as in a fraternity hazing or 
in movies about prisons, like Cool Hand Luke. " 

Burdan is in a critical position as swingman, as the guard in the middle, on 
this night shift. Geoff Landry started out strong but, as the night wore on, de- 
ferred to Hellmann's creative inventions and finally gave in to his powerful style. 
Later, Landry will move into the role of a "good guard" — friendly toward the in- 
mates and doing nothing to degrade them. If Burdan sides with Landry, then to- 
gether they might dim Hellmann's bright lights. But if Burdan sides with the 
tough guy, Landry will be odd man out and the shift will move in a sinister direc- 
tion. In his retrospective diary, Burdan writes that he felt anxious when he was 
suddenly called at 6 P.M. that night to be on duty ASAP. 

Putting on a military-style uniform made him feel silly, given the overflowing 
black hair on his face and head, a contrast that he worried might make prisoners 
laugh at him. He consciously decided not to look them in the eyes, nor smile, nor 
treat the scenario as a game. Compared with Hellmann and Landry, who look self- 
assured in the new roles, he is not. He thinks of them as "the regulars" even 
though they were at their jobs only a few hours before his arrival. What he enjoys 
most about his costume is carrying the big billy club, which conveys a sense of 
power and security as he wields it, rattling it against the bars of the cell doors, 
banging it on the Hole door, or just pounding into his hand, which becomes his 
routine gesture. The rap session at the end of his shift with his new buddies has 
made him more like his old self, less like a power-drunk guard. He does, however, 
give Landry a pep talk about the necessity for all of them to work as a team in 
order to keep the prisoners in line and not to tolerate any rebelliousness. 

Shrieking Whistles at 2:30 A.M. 

The morning shift comes on in the middle of the night, 2 A.M., and quits at 10 A.M. 
This shift consists of Andre Ceros, another long-haired, bearded young man, who 
is joined by Karl Vandy. Remember that Vandy had helped the day shift to trans- 
port prisoners from the County Jail to our jail, so he starts out rather tired. Like 
Burdan, he sports a full head of long, sleek hair. The third guard, Mike Varnish, is 
built like an offensive lineman, sturdy and muscular but shorter than the other 
two. When the warden tells them that there will be a surprise wake-up notice to 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


announce that their shift is at work, all three are delighted to start off with such 
a big bang. 

The prisoners are sound asleep. Some are snoring in their dark, cramped 
cells. Suddenly the silence is shattered. Loud whistles shriek, voices yell, "Up and 
at 'em." "Wake up and get out here for the count!" "Okay, you sleeping beauties, 
it's time to see if you learned how to count." Dazed prisoners line up against the 
wail and count off mindlessly as the three guards alternate in coming up with 
new variations on count themes. The count and its attendant push-ups and 
jumping jacks for failures continue on and on for nearly a weary hour. Finally, the 
prisoners are ordered back to sleep — until reveille a few hours later. Some prison- 
ers report that they felt the first signs of time distortion, feeling surprised, ex- 
hausted, and angry. Some later admit that they considered quitting at this point. 

Guard Ceros, at first uncomfortable in his uniform, now likes the effect of 
wearing silver reflecting glasses. They make him feel "safely authoritative." But 
the loud whistles echoing through the dark chamber scare him a bit. He feels he 
is too soft to be a good guard, so he tries to turn his urge to laugh into a "sadistic 
smile." 11 He goes out of his way to compliment the warden on his constant sug- 
gestions for sadistic ways to enhance the count. Varnish later reported that he 
knew it would be tough for him to be a strong guard, and therefore he looked to 
the others for clues about how to behave in this unusual setting, as most of us do 
when we find ourselves in an alien situation. He felt that the main task of the 
guards was to help create an environment in which the prisoners would lose their 
old identities and take on new ones. 

Some Initial Observations and Concerns 

My notes at this time raise the following questions on which to focus our attention 
over the coming days and nights: Will the arbitrary cruelty of the guards con- 
tinue to increase, or will it reach some equilibrium point? When they go home 
and reflect on what they did here, can we expect them to repent, feel somewhat 
ashamed of their excesses, and act more kindly? Is it possible that the verbal ag- 
gression will escalate and even turn to more physical force? Already, the boredom 
of tedious eight-hour guard shifts has driven the guards to entertain themselves 
by using the prisoners as playthings. How will they deal with this boredom as the 
experiment goes forward? For the prisoners, how will they deal with the boredom 
of living as prisoners around the clock? Will the prisoners be able to maintain 
some measure of dignity or rights for themselves by unifying in their opposition, 
or will they allow themselves to become completely subject to the guards' de- 
mands? How long will it be before the first prisoner decides he has had too much 
and quits the experiment, and will that cascade into others following suit? We've 
seen very different styles between the day shift and the night shift. What will the 
morning shift's style be like? 

It is evident that it has taken a while for these students to take on their new 


The Lucifer Effect 

roles, and with considerable hesitation and some awkwardness. There is still a 
clear sense that it is an experiment on prison life and not really much like an ac- 
tual prison. They may never transcend that psychological barrier of feeling as 
though one were imprisoned in a place in which he had lost his freedom to leave 
at will. How could we expect that outcome in something that was so obviously an 
experiment, despite the mundane reality of the police arrests? In my orientation 
of the guards on Saturday, I had tried to initiate them into thinking of this place 
as a prison in its imitation of the psychological functionality of real prisons. I had 
described the kinds of mental sets that characterize the guard-prisoner experi- 
ences that take place in prisons, which I had learned from my contacts with our 
prison consultant, the formerly incarcerated Carlo Prescott, and from the sum- 
mer school course we had just completed on the psychology of imprisonment. I 
worried that I might have given too much direction to them, which would de- 
mand behavior that they were simply following rather than gradually internaliz- 
ing their new roles through their on-the-job-experiences. So far, it seemed as if 
the guards were rather varied in their behavior and not acting from a preplanned 
script. Let's review what transpired in that earlier guard orientation. 


In preparation for the experiment, our staff met with the dozen guards to discuss 
the purpose of the experiment, give them their assignments, and suggest means 
of keeping the prisoners under control without using physical punishment. Nine 
of the guards had been randomly assigned to the three shifts, with the other three 
as backup, or relief guards, available for emergency duty. After I provided an 
overview of why we were interested in a study of prison life, Warden David Jaffe 
described some of the procedures and duties of the guards, while Craig Haney 
and Curt Banks, in the role of psychological counselors, gave detailed information 
about Sunday's arrest features and the induction of the new prisoners into our 

In reviewing the purpose of the experiment, I told them that I believe all 
prisons to be physical metaphors for the loss of freedom that all of us feel in differ- 
ent ways for different reasons. As social psychologists, we want to understand the 
psychological barriers that prisons create between people. Of course, there were 
limits to what could be accomplished in an experiment using only a "mock 
prison." The prisoners knew they were being imprisoned for only the relatively 
short time of two weeks, unlike the long years most real inmates serve. They also 
knew that there were limits to what we could do to them in an experimental set- 
ting, unlike real prisons, where prisoners can be beaten, electrically shocked, 
gang-raped, and sometimes even killed. I made it clear that we couldn't physically 
abuse the "prisoners" in any way. 

I also made it evident that, despite these constraints, we wanted to create a 

Let Sunday's Degradation Rituals Begin 


psychological atmosphere that would capture some of the essential features char- 
acteristic of many prisons I had learned about recently. 

"We cannot physically abuse or torture them," I said. "We can create bore- 
dom. We can create a sense of frustration. We can create fear in them, to some 
degree. We can create a notion of the arbitrariness that governs their lives, which 
are totally controlled by us, by the system, by you, me, Jaffe. They'll have no pri- 
vacy at all, there will be constant surveillance — nothing they do will go unob- 
served. They will have no freedom of action. They will be able to do nothing and 
say nothing that we don't permit. We're going to take away their individuality in 
various ways. They're going to be wearing uniforms, and at no time will anybody 
call them by name; they will have numbers and be called only by their numbers. 
In general, what all this should create in them is a sense of powerlessness. We 
have total power in the situation. They have none. The research question is, What 
will they do to try to gain power, to regain some degree of individuality, to gain 
some freedom, to gain some privacy? Will the prisoners essentially work against 
us to regain some of what they now have as they freely move outside the 
prison?" 2 

I indicated to these neophyte guards that the prisoners were likely to think of 
this all as "fun and games" but it was up to all of us as prison staff to produce the 
required psychological state in the prisoners for as long as the study lasted. We 
would have to make them feel as though they were in prison; we should never 
mention this as a study or an experiment. After answering various questions from 
these guards-in-the-making, I outlined the way in which the three shifts would be 
chosen by their preferences so as to have three of them on each shift. I then made 
it clear that the seemingly least desirable night shift was likely to be the easiest be- 
cause the prisoners would be sleeping at least half the time. "There'll be relatively 
little for you to do, although you can't sleep. You have to be there in case they plan 
something." Despite my assumption that there would be little work for the night 
shift, that shift ended up doing the most work — and carrying out the most abu- 
sive treatment of the prisoners. 

I should mention again that my initial interest was more in the prisoners and 
their adjustment to this prisonlike situation than it was in the guards. The guards 
were merely ensemble players who would help create a mind-set in the prisoners 
of the feeling of being imprisoned. I think that perspective came from my lower- 
class background, which made me identify more with prisoners than guards. It 
surely was shaped by my extensive personal contact with Prescott and the other 
former inmates I had recently gotten to know. So my orientation speech was de- 
signed to get the guards "into the mood of the joint" by outlining some of the key 
situational and psychological processes at work in typical prisons. Over time, it 
became evident to us that the behavior of the guards was as interesting as, or 
sometimes even more interesting than, that of the prisoners. Would we have got- 
ten the same outcome without this orientation, had we allowed only the behav- 
ioral context and role-playing to operate? As you will see, despite this biasing 


The Lucifer Effect 

guidance, the guards initially did little to enact the attitudes and behaviors that 
were needed to create such negative mind-sets in the prisoners. It took time for 
their new roles and the situational forces to operate upon them in ways that would 
gradually transform them into perpetrators of abuse against the prisoners — the 
evil that I was ultimately responsible for creating in this Stanford County Jail. 

Looked at another way, these guards had no formal training in becoming 
guards, were told primarily to maintain law and order, not to allow prisoners to 
escape, and never to use physical force against the prisoners, and were given a 
general orientation about the negative aspects of the psychology of imprison- 
ment. The procedure is much like many systems of inducting guards into correc- 
tional service with limited training, only that they are allowed to use whatever 
force is necessary under threatening circumstances. The set of rules given by the 
warden and the guards to the prisoners and my orientation instructions to the 
guards represent the contributions of the System in creating a set of initial situa- 
tional conditions that would challenge the values, attitudes, and personality dis- 
positions that these experimental participants brought into this unique setting. 
We will soon see how the conflict between the power of the situation and the 
power of the person was resolved. 



Day Shift: 10 A. M- 6 PM. 


Arnett, Markus, 

3401— Glenn 

Landry (John) 

5704— Paul 

Night Shift: 6PM-2 AM. 

7258— Hubbie 

Hellmann, Burdan 

Cell #2 

Landry (Geoff) 

819— Stewart 

Morning Shift: 2 AM-10 AM. 

1037— Rich 

Vandy Ceros 

8612— Doug 


Cell #3 

Back-up Guards 

2093— Tom "Sarge" 

Morismo, Peters 

4325— Jim 

5486— Jerry 


Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 

Monday, Monday, dreary and weary for all of us after a much too long first day 
and a seemingly endless night. But there go the shrill whistles again, rousing the 
prisoners from sleep promptly at 6 A.M. They drift out of their cells bleary-eyed, 
adjusting their stocking caps and smocks, untangling their ankle chains. They 
are a sullen lot. 5704 later told us that it was depressing to face this new day 
knowing he would have to go through "all the same shit again, and maybe 
worse." 1 

Guard Ceros is lifting up the droopy heads — especially that of 1037, who 
looks as though he is sleepwalking. He pushes their shoulders back to more erect 
positions while physically adjusting the posture of slouching inmates. He's like a 
mother preparing her sleepy children for their first day at school, only a bit 
rougher. It is time for more rule learning and morning exercise before breakfast 
can be served. Vandy takes command: "Okay, we're going to teach you these rules 
until you have all of them memorized." 2 His energy is contagious, stimulating 
Ceros to walk up and down the line of prisoners, brandishing his billy club. 
Quickly losing patience, Ceros yells, "Come on, come on!" when the prisoners do 
not repeat the rules fast enough. Ceros smacks his club against his open palm, 
making the wap, wap sound of restrained aggression. 

Vandy goes through toilet instructions for several minutes and repeats them 
many times until the prisoners meet his standards, repeating what he has told 
them about how they will use the facilities, for how long, and in silence. "819 
thinks it's funny. Maybe we'll have something special for 819." Guard Varnish 
stands off to the side, not doing much at all. Ceros and Vandy switch roles. Pris- 
oner 819 continues to smile and even laugh at the absurdity of it all. "It's not 
funny, 819." 

Throughout, Guard Markus alternates with Ceros in reading the rules. 
Ceros: "Louder on that one! Prisoners must report all rule violations to the 


The Lucifer Effect 

guards." Prisoners are made to sing the rules, and after so many repetitions they 
have obviously learned all of them. Next come instructions regarding proper mili- 
tary style upkeep of their cots. "From now on your towels will be rolled up and 
placed neatly at the foot of your beds. Neatly, not thrown around, got that?" says 

Prisoner 819 starts acting up. He quits the exercises and refuses to continue. 
The others also stop until their buddy rejoins them. The guard asks him to con- 
tinue, which he does — for the sake of his comrades. 

"Nice touch, 819, now take a seat in the Hole," orders Vandy. 819 goes into 
solitary but with a defiant swagger. 

As he methodically paces up and down the corridor in front of the prisoners, 
the tall guard Karl Vandy is beginning to like the feeling of dominance. 

"Okay, what kind of day is this?" Mumbled responses. 

"Louder. Are you all happy?" 

"Yes, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Varnish, trying to get into the act and be cool, asks, "Are we all happy? I 
didn't hear the two of you." 

"Yes, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"4325, what kind of day is this?" 

"It's a good day, Mr. Correctional Offic — " 

"No. It's a wonderful day!" 

"Yes sir, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

They begin to chant, "It's a wonderful day, Mr. Correctional Officer." 
"4325, what kind of day is it?" 
"It's a good day." 

Vandy: "Wrong. It's a wonderful day!" 
"Yes sir. It's a wonderful day." 
"And you, 1037?" 

1037 gives his response a peppy, sarcastic intonation: "It's a wonderful day." 

Vandy: "I think you'll do. Okay, return to your cells and have them neat and 
orderly in three minutes. Then stand by the foot of your bed." He gives instruc- 
tions to Varnish about how to inspect the cells. Three minutes later, the guards 
enter the individual cells while the prisoners stand by their beds in military in- 
spection style. 


There's no question that the prisoners are getting frustrated by having to deal 
with what the guards are doing to them. Moreover, they are hungry and still tired 
from lack of a sound night's rest. However, they are going along with the show 
and are doing a pretty good job of making their beds, but not good enough for 

"You call that neat, 8612? It's a mess, remake it right." With that, he rips off 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


the blanket and sheets and throws them on the floor. 8612 reflexively lunges at 
him, screaming, "You can't do that, I just made it!" 

Caught off guard, Vandy pushes the prisoner off and hits him in the chest 
with his fist as he yells out for reinforcements, "Guards, emergency in Cell 2!" 

All the guards surround 8612 and roughly throw him into the Hole, where 
he joins 819, who has been sitting there quietly. Our rebels begin to plot a revolu- 
tion in the dark, tight confines. But they miss the chance to go to the toilet, to 
which the others are escorted in pairs. It soon becomes painful to hold in the urge 
to urinate, so they decide not to make trouble just yet, but soon. Interestingly, 
Guard Ceros later told us that it was difficult to maintain the guard persona when 
he was alone with a prisoner going to, in, or from the toilet, because there were 
not the external physical props of the prison setting on which to rely. He and most 
of the other guards reported that they acted tougher and were more demanding 
on those prisoner toilet runs in order to counter their tendency to ease up when 
off site. It was just harder to act the tough-guard role when alone with a solitary 
prisoner one on one. There was also a sense of shame in grown-ups like them 
being reduced to toilet patrol.' 

The rebel duo occupying the Hole also misses breakfast, which is served 
promptly at 8 A.M. al fresco in the open Yard. Some eat sitting on the floor, while 
others stand. They violate the "no talking rule," by talking and discussing a 
hunger strike to show prisoner solidarity. They also agree that they should start to 
demand a lot of things to test their power, like getting their eyeglasses, meds, and 
books back and not doing the exercises. Previously silent prisoners, including 
3401 , our only Asian- American participant, now become energized in their open 

After breakfast, 7258 and 5486 test the plan by refusing orders to return to 
their cells. This forces the three guards to push them into their respective cells. Or- 
dinarily, such disobedience would have earned them Hole time, but the Hole is al- 
ready overcrowded, two people being its physical limit. In the rising cacophony, I 
am amazed to hear prisoners from Cell 3 volunteer to clean the dishes. This ges- 
ture is in line with the generally cooperative stance of cellmate Tom-2093, but is 
at odds with their buddies, who are in the process of planning rebellion. Maybe 
they were hoping to cool the mark, to ease the rising tensions. 

With the curious exception of those in Cell 3, the prisoners are careening out 
of control. The morning shift guard trio decides that the prisoners must consider 
the guards too lax, which is encouraging this mischief. They decide it is time to 
stiffen up. First, they institute a morning work period, which today means scrub- 
bing down the walls and floors. Then, in the first stroke of their collective creative 
revenge, they take the blankets off the prisoners' beds in Cells 1 and 2, carry them 
outside the building, and drag them through the underbrush until the blankets 
are covered with stickers or burrs. Unless prisoners don't mind being stuck by 
these sharp pins, they must spend an hour or more picking out each of them if 
they want to use their blankets. Prisoner 5704 goes ballistic, screaming at the 


The Lucifer Effect 

senseless stupidity of this chore. But that is exactly the point. Senseless, mindless 
arbitrary tasks are the necessary components of guard power. The guards want to 
punish the rebels and also to induce unquestioning conformity. After initially re- 
fusing, 5704 reconsiders when he thinks it will get him on the good side of Guard 
Ceros and gain him a cigarette, so he starts picking and picking out the hundreds 
of stickers in his blanket. The chore was all about order, control, and power — who 
had it and who wanted it. 

Guard Ceros asks, "Nothing but the best in this prison, wouldn't you all 

Prisoners mutter various sounds of approval. 

"Really fine, Mr. Correctional Officer," replies someone in Cell 3. 

Nevertheless, 8612, just released from solitary back to Cell 2, has a some- 
what different answer: "Oh, fuckyou, Mr. Correctional Officer." 8612 is ordered to 
shut his filthy mouth. 

I realize that this is the first obscenity that has been uttered in this setting. I 
had expected the guards to curse a lot as part of establishing the macho role, but 
they have not yet done so. However, Doug-8612 does not hesitate to fling obscen- 
ities around. 

Guard Ceros: "It was weird to be in command. I felt like shouting that every- 
one was the same. Instead, I made prisoners shout at each other, 'You guys are a 
bunch of assholes!' I was in disbelief when they recited it over and over upon my 
command." 4 

Vandy added, "I found myself taking on the guard role. I didn't apologize for 
it; in fact, I became quite a bit bossier. The prisoners were getting quite rebellious, 
and I wanted to punish them for breaking up our system.'" 

The next sign of rebellion comes from a small group of prisoners, Stew-819 
and Paul-5704, and, for the first time, 7258, the previously docile Hubbie. Tear- 
ing the ID numbers from the front of their uniforms, they protest loudly against 
the unacceptable living conditions. The guards immediately retaliate by stripping 
each of them stark naked until their numbers are replaced. The guards retreat to 
their quarters with an uneasy sense of superiority, but an eerie silence falls over 
the Yard as they eagerly await the end of their much too long first shift on this job. 

Welcome to the Rebellion, Day Shift 

When the day shift arrives and suits up before their 10 A.M. duty, they discover 
that all is not as under control as it was when they left yesterday. The prisoners in 
Cell 1 have barricaded themselves in. They refuse to come out. Guard Arnett im- 
mediately takes over and requests the morning shift to stay on until this matter is 
resolved. His tone implies that they are somehow responsible for letting things get 
out of hand. 

The ringleader of the revolt is Paul-5704, who got his buddies in Cell 1, 
Hubbie-7258 and Glenn-3401, to agree that it was time to react against the vio- 
lation of the original contract they made with the authorities (me). They push 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


their beds against the cell door, cover the door opening with blankets, and shut off 
the lights. Unable to push the door open, the guards vent their anger on Cell 2, 
which is filled with the usual top-of-the-line troublemakers, Doug-8612, Stew-819, 
veterans of the Hole, and Rich- 1037. In a surprise counterattack, the guards 
rush in, grab the three cots and haul them out into the yard, while 8612 struggles 
furiously to resist. There are pushing and shoving and shouting all around that 
cell, spilling out into the Yard. 

"Up against the wall!" 

"Give me the handcuffs!" 

"Get everything, take everything!" 

819 screams wildly, "No, no, no! This is an experiment! Leave me alone! Shit, 
let go of me, fucker! You're not going to take our fucking beds!" 

8612: "A fucking simulation. It's a fucking simulated experiment. It's no 
prison. And fuck Dr. Zimbargo! " 

Arnett, in a remarkably calm voice, intones, "When the prisoners in Cell 1 
start behaving properly, your beds will be returned. You can use whatever influ- 
ence you can on them to make them behave properly." 

A calmer-sounding prisoner's voice importunes the guards, "These are our 
beds. You should not take them away." 

In utter bewilderment, the naked prisoner 8612 says in a plaintive voice, 
"They took our clothes, and they took our beds! This is unbelievable! They took 
our clothes, and they took our beds." He adds, "They don't do that in real prisons." 
Curiously, another prisoner calls back, "They do."* 

The guards burst into laughter. 8612 thrusts his hands between the cell door 
bars, open palms facing upward, in a pleading gesture, an unbelieving expression 
on his face and a new, strange tone to his voice. Guard J. Landry tells him to get his 
hands off the door, but Ceros is more direct and smacks his club against the bars. 
8612 pulls his hands back just in time to avoid his fingers being smashed. The 
guards laugh. 

Now the guards move toward Cell 3 as 8612 and 1037 call out to their 
Cell 3 comrades to barricade themselves in. "Get your beds in front of the door!" 
"One horizontal and one vertical! Don't let them in! They'll take your beds!" 
"They've taken our beds! Oh shit!" 

1037 goes over the top with his call to violent resistance: "Fight them! Resist 
violently! The time has come for violent revolution!" 

Guard Landry returns armed with a big fire extinguisher and shoots bursts of 
skin-chilling carbon dioxide into Cell 2, forcing the prisoners to flee backward. 
"Shut up and stay away from the door!" (Ironically, this is the same extinguisher 
that the Human Subjects Research Committee insisted we have available in case 
of an emergency!) 

But as the beds are pulled from Cell 3 into the corridor, the rebels in Cell 2 feel 

"Cell 3, what's going on? We told you to barricade the doors!" 


The Lucifer Effect 

"What kind of solidarity is that? Was it the 'sergeant'? 'Sergeant' (2093), if it 
was your fault, that's all right because we all understand that you're impossible." 

"But hey, Cell 1, keep your beds like that. Don't let them in." 

The guards realize that six of them can subdue a prisoner rebellion this time, 
but in the future they will have to get by with only three guards against the nine 
prisoners, and that could add up to trouble. Never mind: Arnett formulates the 
divide-and-conquer psychological tactic of making Cell 3 the privileged cell and 
gives its members the special privileges of washing, brushing their teeth, beds and 
bedding returned, and water turned on in their cell. 

Guard Arnett loudly announces that because Cell 3 has been behaving well, 
"their beds are not being torn up; they will be returned when order is restored in 
Cell 1." 

The guards are trying to solicit the "good prisoners" to persuade the others to 
behave properly. "Well, if we knew what was wrong, we could tell them!" one of 
the "good prisoners" exclaims. 

Vandy replies, "You don't need to know what's wrong. You can just tell them 
to straighten up." 

8612 yells out, "Cell 1, we're with ya, all three of us." Then he makes a vague 
threat to the guards as they cart him oflF back to solitary wearing only a towel: 
"The unfortunate thing is, you guys think we've played all our cards." 

That job done, the guards take a brief time-out for a smoke and to formulate 
a plan of action to deal with the Cell 1 barricade. 

When Rich-1037 refuses to come out of Cell 2, three guards manhandle 
him, throw him to the ground, handcuff his ankles, and drag him by his feet out 
into the Yard. He and rebel 8612 yell back and forth from the Hole to the Yard 
about their condition, pleading with the full prisoner contingent to sustain the re- 
bellion. Some guards are trying to make space in the hall closet for another place 
in an expanded Hole in which to deposit 1037. While they move boxes around to 
free up some more room, they drag him back into his cell along the floor with his 
feet still chained together. 

Guards Arnett and Landry confer and agree on a simple way to bring some 
order to this bedlam: Start the count. The count confers order on chaos. Even 
with only four prisoners in line, all at attention, the guards begin by making the 
prisoners call out their numbers. 

"My number is 4325, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"My number is 2093, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

The count sounds out up and down the line, consisting of the three "goodies" 
from Cell 3 and 7258 naked with only a towel around his waist. Remarkably, 
8612 calls out his number from the Hole, but in mocking fashion. 

The guards now drag 1037 into solitary by the feet, putting him in a far cor- 
ner of the hall closet that has become a makeshift second Hole. Meanwhile, 8612 
continues yelling for the prison superintendent: "Hey, Zimbardo, get your ass over 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


here!" I decide not to intervene at this point but to watch the confrontation and 
the attempts to restore law and order. 

Some interesting comments are recorded in the retrospective diaries of the 
prisoners (completed after the study had ended). 

Paul-5704 talks about the first effects of the time distortion that is beginning 
to alter everyone's thinking. "After we had barricaded ourselves in this morning, 
I fell asleep for a while, still exhausted from lack of a full sleep last night. When I 
awoke I thought it was the next morning, but it wasn't even lunch today yet!" He 
fell asleep again in the afternoon, thinking it was night when he awoke, but it was 
only 5 P.M. Time distortion also got to 3401, who felt starved and was angry that 
dinner had not been served, thinking it was 9 or 10 P.M. when it was not yet 5 P.M. 

Although the guards eventually crushed the rebellion and used it as justifica- 
tion for escalating their dominance and control over these now potentially "dan- 
gerous prisoners," many of the prisoners felt good about having had the courage 
to challenge the system. 5486 remarked that his "spirits were good, guys to- 
gether, ready to raise hell. We staged the 'Jock Strap Rebellion.' No more jokes, no 
jumping jacks, no playing with our heads." He added that he was limited by what 
his cellmates in the "good cell" would agree to back him up on. Had he been in 
Cell 1 or 2, he would have "done as they did" and rebelled more violently. Our 
smallest, most physically fragile prisoner, Glenn-3401, the Asian-American stu- 
dent, seemed to have had an epiphany during the rebellion: "I suggested moving 
the beds against the door to keep the guards out. Although I am usually quiet, I 
don't like to be pushed around like this. Having helped to organize and participate 
in our rebellion was important for me. I built my ego from there. I felt it was the 
best thing in my entire experience. Sort of asserting myself after the barricade 
made me more known to myself." 7 

After Lunch, Maybe an Escape 

With Cell 1 still barricaded and some rebels in solitary, lunch is set for only a few. 
The guards have prepared a special lunch for "Good Cell 3," for them to eat in 
front of their less-well-behaved fellows. Surprising us again, they refuse the meal. 
The guards try to persuade them just to taste the delicious meal, but even though 
they are hungry after their minimal oatmeal breakfast and last night's slim din- 
ner, the Cell 3 inmates cannot agree to act as such traitors, as "rat finks." A 
strange silence pervades the Yard for the next hour. However, these Cell 3 men are 
totally cooperative during the work period chores, some of which include taking 
more stickers out of their blankets. Prisoner Rich-1037 is offered a chance to 
leave solitary and join the work brigade but refuses. He is coming to prefer the rela- 
tive quiet in the dark. The rules say only one hour max in the Hole, but that max 
is being stretched to two hours now for 1037, and also for occupant 8612. 

Meanwhile in Cell 1, two prisoners are quietly executing the first stage of 
their new escape plan. Paul-5704 will use his long fingernails, strengthened from 


The Lucifer Effect 

guitar picking, to loosen the screws in the faceplate of the power outlet. Once that 
is accomplished, they plan to use the edge of the plate as a screwdriver to unscrew 
the cell door lock. One will pretend to be sick and, when the guard is taking him to 
the toilet, will open the main entrance door down the hall. Signaled by a whistle, 
the other cellmate will burst out. They will knock the guard down and run away 
to freedom! As in real prisons, prisoners can show remarkable creativity in fash- 
ioning weapons out of virtually anything and hatching ingenious escape plans. 
Time and oppression are the fathers of rebellious invention. 

But as bad luck would have it, Guard John Landry, making routine rounds, 
turns the door handle on Cell 1, and it falls out to the ground with a resounding 
thud. Panic ensues. "Help!" Landry screams out. "Escape!" Arnett and Markus 
rush in, block the door, and then get handcuffs to chain the would-be escapees to- 
gether on the floor of their cell. Of course, 8612 was one of the troublemakers, so 
he gets his frequent-flyer trip back into the Hole. 

A Nice Count to Calm the Restless Masses 

Several anxious hours have passed since the day shift reported for work. It is time 
to soothe the savage beasts before further trouble erupts. "Good behavior is re- 
warded, and bad behavior is not rewarded." That calm, commanding voice is now 
clearly identified as Arnett's. He and Landry once again join forces to line up their 
charges for another count. Arnett takes charge. He has emerged as the leader of 
the day shift. "Hands against the wall, on this wall here. Now let's see how well 
everyone is learning his numbers. As before, sound your number, starting at this 

Sarge starts it olf, setting the tone of a fast, loud response, which the other 
prisoners pick up with some variations. 4325 and 7258 are fast and obedient. We 
have not heard much from Jim-4325, a big, robust six-footer who could be a lot to 
handle if he decided to get physical with the guards. In contrast, Glenn-3401 and 
Stew-819 are always slower, evidently reluctant to comply mindlessly. Not satis- 
fied, and imposing his own brand of control, Arnett makes them count in creative 
ways. They do it by threes, backward, any way he can devise that will make it un- 
necessarily difficult. Arnett is also demonstrating his creativity to all onlookers, as 
does Guard Hellmann, but Arnett doesn't seem to take nearly as much personal 
pleasure in his performance as the other shift leader does. For him, this is more a 
job to be done efficiently. 

Landry suggests having the prisoners sing their numbers; Arnett asks, "Was 
that popular last night? Did people like singing?" Landry: "I thought they liked it 
last night." But a few prisoners respond that they don't like to sing. Arnett: "Oh, 
well, you must learn to do things you don't like; it's part of reintegrating into regu- 
lar society." 

819 complains, "People out on the streets don't have numbers." 
Arnett responds, "People out on the street don't have to have numbers! You 
have to have numbers because of your status here!" 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


Landry gives specific instructions about how to sing their scales: sing up a 
scale, like "do re mi." All of the prisoners conform and sing the ascending scale to 
the best of their ability, then the descending scale, except for 819, who doesn't at- 
tempt any scales. "819 can't sing for a damn; let's hearit again." 819 starts to ex- 
plain why he can't sing. Arnett, however, clarifies the purpose of this exercise. "I 
didn't ask you why you couldn't sing, the object is for you to learn to sing." Arnett 
criticizes the prisoners for their poor singing, but the weary prisoners just giggle 
and laugh when they make mistakes. 

In contrast to his shift mates, Guard John Markus seems listless. He rarely 
gets involved in the main activities in the Yard. Instead, he volunteers to do off-site 
chores, like picking up food at the college cafeteria. His body posture gives the im- 
pression that he is not enacting the macho guard image; he slouches, shoulders 
down, head drooping. I ask Warden Jaffe to talk to him about being more respon- 
sive to the job for which he is getting paid. The warden takes him off the Yard into 
his office and chastises him. 

"The guards have to know that every guard has to be what we call a 'tough 
guard.' The success of this experiment rides on the behavior of the guards to 
make it seem as realistic as possible." Markus challenges him, "Real-life experi- 
ence has taught me that tough, aggressive behavior is counterproductive." Jaffe 
gets defensive. He starts saying that the purpose of the experiment is not to reform 
prisoners but to understand how prisons change people when they are faced with 
the situation of guards being all-powerful. 

"But we are also being affected by this situation. Just putting on this guard 
uniform is a pretty heavy thing for me." Jaffe becomes more reassuring; "I under- 
stand where you are coming from. We need you to act in a certain way. For the 
time being, we need you to play the role of 'tough guard.' We need you to react as 
you imagine the 'pigs' would. We're trying to set up the stereotype guard — your 
individual style has been a little too soft." 

"Okay, I will try to adjust somewhat." 

"Good, I knew we could count on you."* 

Meanwhile, 8612 and 1037 remain in solitary. However, now they are 
yelling out complaints about violations of the rules. No one is paying attention. 
Each of them separately says he needs to see a doctor. 8612 says he is feeling ill, 
feeling strange. He mentions a weird sensation of his stocking cap still being on 
his head when he knows it is not there. His demand to see the warden will be 
granted later in the day. 

At four o'clock, beds are returned to good Cell 3, as the guards' attention fo- 
cuses on the prisoners in the still rebellious Cell 1. The night shift guards are asked 
to come in early, and together with the day shift they storm the cell, shooting the 
fire extinguisher at the door opening to keep the prisoners at bay. They strip the 
three prisoners naked, take away their beds, and threaten to deprive them of din- 
ner if they show any further disobedience. Already hungry from missing lunch, 
the prisoners melt into a sullen, quiet blob. 


The Lucifer Effect 

The Stanford County Jail Prisoners' Grievance Committee 

Realizing that the situation is becoming volatile, I have the warden announce 
over the loudspeaker that prisoners should elect three members to the newly 
formed "Stanford County Jail Prisoners' Grievance Committee," who will meet 
with Superintendent Zimbardo as soon as they agree on what grievances they 
want to have addressed and rectified. We later learn from a letter that Paul-5704 
sent to his girlfriend that he was proud to be nominated by his comrades to head 
this committee. This is a remarkable statement, showing how the prisoners had 
lost their broad time perspectives and were living "in the moment." 

The Grievance Committee, consisting of elected members, Paul-5704, Jim- 
4325, and Rich-1037, tell me that their contract has been violated in many ways. 
Their prepared list includes that: the guards are being both physically and ver- 
bally abusive; there is an unnecessary level of harassment; the food is not ade- 
quate; they want to have their books, glasses, and various pills and meds 
returned; they want more than one Visiting Night; and some of them want reli- 
gious services. They argue that all of these conditions justified their need to rebel 
openly as they had all day long. 

Behind my silver reflecting sunglasses, I slip into the superintendent role 
automatically. I start out by saying I am sure we can resolve any disagreements 
amicably, to our mutual satisfaction. I note that this Grievance Committee is a fine 
first step in that direction. I am willing to work directly with them as long as they 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


represent the will of all the others. "But you have to understand that a lot of the 
guards' hassling and physical actions have been induced by your bad behavior. 
You have brought it upon yourselves by disrupting our planned schedules and by 
creating panic among the guards, who are new to this line of work. They took 
away many of your privileges rather than becoming more physically abusive to 
the rebellious prisoners." The Grievance Committee members nod knowingly. 
"I promise to take this grievance list to my staff tonight and to change as many 
negative conditions as possible, and to institute some of the positive things you 
have suggested. I will bring a prison chaplain down tomorrow and have a second 
Visiting Night this week for starters." 

"That's great, thanks," says the head prisoner, Paul-5704, and the others 
nod in agreement that progress is being made toward a more civil prison. 

We stand and shake hands, and they leave pacified. I hope that they will tell 
their buddies to cool it from now on, so we can avoid such confrontations. 


Doug-8612 is not in a cooperative mood. He is not buying the goodwill message 
of the grievance guys. More insubordination earns him more Hole time, with his 
hands cuffed continuously. He says he is feeling sick and demands to see the war- 
den. A while later, Warden Jaffe meets with him in his office and listens to the pris- 
oner complain about the arbitrary and "sadistic" behavior of the guards. Jaffe 
tells him that his behavior is triggering the guards' reactions. If he would be more 
cooperative, Jaffe would see to it that the guards would lighten up on him. 8612 
says that unless that happens soon, he wants out. Jaffe is also concerned about his 
medical complaints and asks if he wants to see a doctor, to which 8612 demurs 
for now. The prisoner is escorted back to his cell, from which he yells back and 
forth to comrade Rich- 1037, who is still sitting in solitary complaining about the 
intolerable conditions and also wanting to see a doctor. 

Although seemingly comforted by his exchange with the warden, Prisoner 
8612 goes off screaming in rage, insisting on seeing "the fucking Dr. Zimbardo, 
Superintendent." I agree to see him immediately. 

Our Prison Consultant Mocks the Mock Prisoner 

That afternoon, I had arranged for the first visit to the prison of my consultant 
Carlo Prescott, who had helped me design many of the features in the experi- 
ment to simulate a functional equivalent of imprisonment in a real jail. Carlo 
had recently been paroled from San Quentin State Prison after serving seven- 
teen years there, as well as time served at Folsom and Vacaville Prisons, mostly 
for convictions on armed robbery felonies. I had met him a few months before 
during one of the course projects that my social psychology students organized 
around the theme of individuals in institutional settings. Carlo had been invited 


The Lucifer Effect 

by one of the students to give the class an insider's view of the realities of 
prison life. 

Carlo was only four months out of prison and filled with anger at the injus- 
tice of the prison system. He railed against American capitalism, racism, black 
Uncle Toms who do the Man's work against Brothers, warmongers, and much 
more. But he was remarkably perceptive and insightful about social interactions, 
as well as exceptionally eloquent, with a resonant baritone voice and seamless, 
nonstop delivery. I was intrigued by this man's views, especially since we were 
about the same age — me thirty-eight, him forty — and both of us had grown up in 
an East or West coast ghetto. But while I was going to college, Carlo was going to 
jail. We became fast friends. I became his confidant, patient listener to his ex- 
tended monologues, psychological counselor, and "booking agent" for jobs and 
lectures. His first job was to co-teach with me a new summer school course at 
Stanford University on the psychology of imprisonment. Carlo not only told the 
class intimate details of his personal prison experiences, he arranged for other 
formerly incarcerated men and women to share theirs. We added prison guards, 
prison lawyers, and others knowledgeable about the American prison system. 
That experience and intense mentoring by Carlo helped to infuse our little experi- 
ment with a kind of situational savvy never before seen in any comparable social 
science research. 

It is about 7 P.M. when Carlo and I watch one of the counts on the TV moni- 
tor that is recording the day's special events. Then we retreat to my superinten- 
dent's office to discuss how things are going and how I should handle tomorrow's 
Visiting Night. Suddenly, Warden Jaffe bursts in to report that 8612 is really dis- 
traught, wants out, and insists on seeing me. Jaffe can't tell whether 8612 is just 
faking it to get released and then to make some trouble for us, or if he is genuinely 
feeling ill. He insists that it is my call and not his to make. 

"Sure, bring him in so I can assess the problem," I say. 

A sullen, defiant, angry, and confused young man enters the office. "What 
seems to be the trouble, young man?" 

"I can't take it anymore, the guards are hassling me, they are picking on me, 
putting me in the Hole all the time, and — " 

"Well, from what I have seen, and I have seen it all, you have brought this all 
on yourself; you are the most rebellious, insubordinate prisoner in the whole 

"I don't care, you have all violated the contract, I didn't expect to get treated 
like this, you — "* 

"Stop right there, punk!" Carlo lashes out against 8612 with a vengeance. 
"You can't take what? Push-ups, jumping' jacks, guards calling you names and 
yelling at you? Is that what you mean by 'hassling'? Don't interrupt me. And 
you're crying about being put in that closet for a few hours? Let me straighten you 
out, white boy. You would not last a day at San Quentin. We would all smell your 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


fear and weakness. The guards would be banging you upside your head, and be- 
fore they put you in their real solitary concrete barren pit that I endured for weeks 
at a time, they'd throw you to us. Snuffy, or some other bad gang boss, would've 
bought you for two, maybe three packs of cigarettes, and your ass would be bleed- 
ing bright red, white, and blue. And that would be just the beginning of turning 
you into a sissy." 

8612 is frozen by the fury of Carlo's harangue. I need to rescue him because 
I can sense that Carlo is about to explode. Seeing our prisonlike setting has 
brought to his mind years of torment from which Carlo is but a few months away. 

"Carlo, thanks for providing this reality check. But I need to know some 
things from this prisoner before we can proceed properly. 8612, you realize that I 
have the power to get the guards not to hassle you, if you choose to stay and co- 
operate. Do you need the money — the rest of which you will forfeit by quitting 

"Yeah, sure, but — " 

"Okay, then here's the deal, no more guards hassling you, you stay and earn 
your money, and in return all you have to do is cooperate from time to time, shar- 
ing a little information with me from time to time that might be helpful to me in 
running this prison." 

"I don't know about that. . . " 

"Look, think over my offer, and if later on, after a good dinner, you still want 
to leave, then that will be fine, and you will be paid for time you have served. How- 
ever, if you choose to continue, make all the money, not be hassled, and cooperate 
with me, then we can put the first day's problems behind us and start over. 

"Maybe, but—" 

"No need to decide either way right now, reflect on my offer and decide later 
tonight, okay?" 

As 8612 quietly utters, "Well, all right," I escort him out to the warden's 
next-door office to be returned to the Yard. I tell Jaffe that he is still deciding about 
staying and will make his decision later on. 

I had thought up the Faustian bargain on the spot. I had acted like an evil 
prison administrator, not the good-hearted professor I like to think I am. As super- 
intendent, I do not want 8612 to leave, because it might have a negative impact 
on the other inmates and because I think we might be able to get him to be more 
cooperative if we have guards back off their abusive behaviors toward him. But I 
have invited 8612, the rebel leader, to be a "snitch," an informer, sharing infor- 
mation with me in return for special privileges. In the Prisoner Code, a snitch is 
the lowest form of animal life and is often kept in solitary by the authorities be- 
cause if his informer role became known, he would be murdered. Later, Carlo and 
I retreat to Ricky's restaurant, where I try to put this ugly image behind me for a 
short time while enjoying Carlo's new stories over a plate of lasagna. 


The Lucifer Effect 

The Prisoner Tells Everyone That No One Can Quit 

Back in the Yard, Guards Arnett and J. Landry have the prisoners lined up against 
the wall doing yet another count before the end of their extended day shift. Once 
more, Stew-819 is being ridiculed by the guards for being so listless in joining his 
peers, who are calling out in unison, "Thank you, Mr. Correctional Officer, for a 
fine day!" 

The prison entrance door squeaks as it opens. The line of prisoners all look 
down the hall to see 8612 returning from his meeting with the prison authorities. 
He announced to them before seeing me that it was his bon voyage meeting. He 
was quitting, and there was nothing they could do to make him stay any longer. 
Doug-8612 now pushes his way through the line of his friends into Cell 2, throw- 
ing himself on his cot. 

"8612, out here against the wall," Arnett orders. 

"Fuck you," he replies defiantly. 

"Against the wall, 8612." 

"Fuck you!" replies 8612. 

Arnett: "Somebody help him!" 

J. Landry asks Arnett, "Do you have the key to the handcuffs, sir?" 

Still in his cell, 8612 yells out, "If I gotta be in here, I'm not going to put up 
with any of your shit." As he saunters out into the Yard, with half the prisoners 
lined up on either side of Cell 2, Doug-8612 offers them a new terrible reality: "I 
mean, you know, really. I mean, I couldn't get out! I spent all this time talking to 
doctors and lawyers and ..." 

His voice trails off, and it is not clear what this means. The other prisoners are 
giggling at him. Standing in front of the other prisoners, defying orders to stand 
against the wall, 8612 delivers an uppercut to his buddies. He continues to rant 
in his high-pitched, whiny voice: "/ couldn 't get out! They wouldn 't let me out! You 
can 't get out of here! " 

The inmates' initial giggles are replaced by nervous laughter. The guards ig- 
nore 8612 as they continue trying to discover where the keys to the handcuffs 
are, assuming they will handcuff 8612 and stuff him back in the Hole if he keeps 
this up. 

One prisoner asks 8612, "You mean you couldn't break the contract?" 

Another prisoner inquires desperately, but not of anyone in particular, "Can 
I cancel my contract?" 

Arnett toughens up: "No talking on the line. 8612 will be around later for 
you all to talk with." 

This revelation from one of their respected leaders is a powerful blow to the 
prisoners' resolve and defiance. Glenn-3401 reported on the impact of 8612's as- 
sertion: "He said you can't get out. You felt like you were really a prisoner. Maybe 
you were a prisoner in Zimbardo's experiment and maybe you were getting paid 
for it, but damn it, you were a prisoner. You were really a prisoner." 10 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


He begins to fantasize some worst-case scenarios: "The thought that we had 
signed our lives away for two weeks, body and soul, was exceptionally frightening. 
The actual belief that 'we are really prisoners' was real — one couldn't escape 
without truly drastic action followed by a series of unknown consequences. 
Would the Palo Alto Police try to pick us up again? Would we get paid? How do I 
get my wallet back?"" 

Rich-1037, who had been a problem for the guards all day long, was also 
stunned by this new realization. He later reported, "I was told that I couldn't quit. 
At that point, I felt it was really a prison. There's no way I can describe how I felt 
at that moment. I felt totally helpless. More helpless than I have ever felt before." " 

It was evident to me that 8612 had trapped himself in multiple dilemmas. He 
was caught between wanting to be the tough-guy rebel leader but not wanting to 
deal with the guards' hassling, wanting to stay and earn the money he needed but 
not wanting to be my informer. He was probably planning to become a double 
agent, lying to me or misleading me about prisoner activities, but not sure of his 
ability to carry off that deception. He should have immediately refused my offer to 
trade up for some comfort by becoming the official "snitch," but he did not. At 
that moment, if he had insisted on being released, I would have had to allow him 
that option. Again, maybe he was too shamed by Carlo's taunting him to yield 
readily in front of him. All of these were possible mind games that he resolved by 
insisting to the others that it was our official decision not to release him, putting 
the blame on the system. 

Nothing could have had a more transformative impact on the prisoners than 
the sudden news that in this experiment they had lost their liberty to quit on de- 
mand, lost their power to walk out at will. At that moment, the Stanford Prison 
Experiment was changed into the Stanford Prison, not by any top-down formal 
declarations by the staff but by this bottom-up declaration from one of the prison- 
ers themselves. Just as the prisoner rebellion changed the way the guards began 
to think about the prisoners as dangerous, this prisoner's assertion about no one 
being allowed to quit changed the way all the mock prisoners felt about their new 
status as helpless prisoners. 


As if things were not bad enough for the prisoners, it is now night shift time, once 
again. Hellmann and Burdan have been pacing the Yard waiting for the day shift 
to move out. They are wielding their billy clubs, yelling something into Cell 2, 
threatening 8612, insisting that a prisoner get back from the door, and pointing 
the fire extinguisher at the cell, shouting to ask whether they want more of this 
cool carbon dioxide spray in their faces. 

A prisoner asks Guard Geoff Landry: "Mr. Correctional Officer, I have a re- 
quest. It's somebody's birthday tonight. Can we sing 'Happy Birthday'?" 

Before Landry can answer, Hellmann replies from the background, "We'll 


The Lucifer Effect 

sing 'Happy Birthday' at lineup. Now it is dinner time, three at a time." The pris- 
oners now sit around a table laid out in the middle of the yard to eat their skimpy 
dinner. No talking allowed. 

Reviewing the tapes of this shift, I see a prisoner being brought in through 
the main doors by Burdan. The prisoner, who hadjust attempted to escape, stands 
at attention in the center of the hallway just beyond the dinner table. He is blind- 
folded. Landry asks the prisoner how he removed the lock on the door. He refuses 
to spill the beans. When the blindfold is taken off the escapee, Geoff warns men- 
acingly, "Tf we see your hands near that lock, 8612, we'll have something really 
good for you." It was Doug-8612 who tried the escape plan! Landry pushes him 
back into his cell, where 8612 begins to scream obscenities again, louder than 
before, and a stream of 'Fuck yous' floods the Yard. Hellmann says wearily into Cell 
2, "8612, your game is getting very old. Very old. It's not even amusing anymore." 

The guards rush to the dinner table to stop 5486 from conferring with his 
Cell mates, who have been forbidden to communicate. Geoff Landry shouts at 
5486, "Hey, hey! We can't deprive you of a meal, but we can take the rest of it 
away. You've had something. The warden says we can't deprive you of meals, but 
you've already had a meal, at least part of it. So we can take the rest away." He 
then makes a general pronouncement to everyone: "You guys seem to have for- 
gotten about all of the privileges we can give you." He reminds them of the visit- 
ing hours tomorrow, which, of course, could be canceled if there is a lockdown. 
Some prisoners who are still eating say that they have not forgotten about Tues- 
day's seven o'clock visiting hours and are looking forward to them. 

Geoff Landry insists that 8612 put back on his stocking cap, which he had 
taken off during dinner. "We wouldn't want you dropping anything out of your 
hair into your meal and getting sick on it." 

8612 responds strangely, as though he is losing contact with reality: "I can't 
put it on my head, it's too tight. I'll get a headache. What? I know that's really 
weird. That's why I'm trying to get out of here . . . they keep saying 'No, you won't 
get a headache,' but I know I will get a headache." 

Now it becomes Rich-1037's turn to be despondent and detached. He is look- 
ing glassy-eyed, speaking only in a slow monotone. Lying on the floor of his cell, 
he keeps coughing, insists on seeing the superintendent. (I see him when I return 
from my dinner, give him some cough drops, and tell him that he can leave if he 
feels he can't take it anymore but that things will go better if he does not spend so 
much time and energy rebelling. He reports feeling better and promises to try his 

The guards next turn their attention on Paul-5704, who is now being more 
assertive, as if to stand in for former rebel leader Doug-8612. "You don't look too 
happy, 5704," Landry says, as Hellmann starts running his club against the bars 
of the cell door, making a loud clanging sound. Burdan adds, "You think they'd 
like that [the loud bar clanging] after lights out, maybe tonight?" 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


5704 attempts a joke, but the guards are not laughing, although some of the 
prisoners are. Landry says, "Oh, that's good, that's real good. Keep it up, really. 
We're really getting entertained now. I haven't heard this type of kid stuff in 
about ten years." 

The guards, standing tall, all in a row, stare at 8612, who is eating slowly and 
by himself. With one hand on their hips and the other swinging their billy clubs 
menacingly, the guards display a united front. "We have a bunch of resisters, 
revolutionaries, here!" exclaims Geoff Landry. 

8612 then bolts up from the dinner table and races across to the rear wall, 
where he rips down the black scrim covering the video camera. The guards grab 
him and drag him back into the Hole yet again. He says sarcastically, "Sorry, 

One of them responds, "You're sorry, huh. We'll have something for you later 
that you will be sorry for." 

When Hellmann and Burdan both start banging on the door of the Hole with 
their billy clubs, 8612 starts screaming that it is deafening and is making his 
headache worse. 

Doug-8612 yells out, "Fuckin' don't do that man, it hurts my ears!" 

Burdan: "Maybe you'll think about that before you want to do something 
that gets you into the Hole next time, 8612." 

8612 answers, "Nah, you can just fuck off, buddy! Next time the doors go 
down, I mean it!" (He is threatening to tear down the door to his cell, the entrance 
door, and perhaps he means the wall where the observation camera is located.) 

A prisoner asks if they'll be having a movie tonight, as they had expected to 
get when the original details of the prison were described to them. A guard 
replies, "I don't know if we'll ever have a movie!" 

The guards openly discuss the consequences of damaging prison property, 
and Hellmann grabs a copy of the prison rules, reading off the rule about damag- 
ing prison property. As he leans against Cell l's doorframe and twirls his billy 
club, he seems to be inhaling confidence and dominance moment by moment. In- 
stead of movie time, he will give them either work or R&R time, Hellmann tells his 

Hellmann: "Okay, let's have your attention, please. We have some fun lined 
up for everyone tonight. Cell 3, you're on rest and recreation, you can do what you 
please because you washed your dishes and did your chores well. Cell 2, you've still 
got a little bit of work to do. And Cell 1, we've got a great blanket for you to pick all 
the stickers out of. Okay, bring them on in here, Officer, let's let them see, they 
gonna do just fine for Cell 1 to work on tonight if they want to sleep on a blanket 
without stickers." 

Landry hands Hellman some blankets coated with a new collection of stick- 
ers. "Oh, isn't that a beauty?" He continues his monologue: "Just look at that 
blanket, ladies and gentleman! Look at that blanket! Isn't that a masterpiece? I 


The Lucifer Effect 

want you to take each and every one of those stickers out of that blanket, because 
that's what you're gonna have to sleep on." A prisoner tells him, "We'll just sleep 
on the floor," to which Landry replies simply, "Suit yourself, suit yourself." 

It is interesting to see how Geoff Landry vacillates between the tough-guard 
and good-guard roles. He still has not relinquished control to Hellmann, to whose 
dominance he may aspire at some level, while feeling greater sympathy for the 
prisoners than Hellmann seems capable of. (In a later interview, the thoughtful 
prisoner Jim-43 25 describes Hellmann as one of the bad guards, nicknaming him 
"John Wayne." He describes the Landry brothers as two of the "good guards," 
while most other prisoners agree that Geoff Landry was more often good than bad 
as a guard.) 

A prisoner in Cell 3 asks whether it would be possible for them to get some 
books to read. Hellmann suggests giving them all "a couple of copies of the rules" 
as their bedtime reading material. Now it is time for another count. "Okay, there'll 
be no goofing off tonight, remember? Let's start at 2093, and let's count off, just 
so we can keep in practice," he says. 

Burdan jumps on the bandwagon, walks right up in the prisoners' faces, and 
says, "We didn't teach you to count that way. Loud, clear, and fast! 5704, you are 
sure slow enough! You can start off with the jumping jacks." 

The guards' punishment is becoming indiscriminate; they're no longer pun- 
ishing prisoners for any specific reason. 5704 is having none of that: "I'm not 
gonna do it!" 

Burdan forces him into it, so he goes down, but not far enough, apparently. 
"Down, man, down!" pushing him down by pressing on his back with his billy 

"Don't push, man." 

"What do you mean, 'Don't push'?" in a ridiculing tone. 
"That's what I said, don't push!" 

"Just go on now and do your push-ups," Burdan orders. "Now get back in 

Burdan is decidedly much more vocal and involved than he was before, but 
Hellmann is still clearly the "alpha male." However, when Burdan and Hellmann 
become the dynamic duo, suddenly Geoff Landry recedes into the background or 
is not on the Yard scene at all. 

Even 2093, the best prisoner, "Sarge," is forced to do push-ups andjumping 
jacks for no apparent reason. "Oh, that's nice! See how he does those? He's got a 
lot of energy tonight," says Hellmann. Then he turns on 340 1 : "Are you smiling? 
What are you smiling about?" His sidekick, Burdan, chimes in, 'Are you smiling, 
3401? You think this is funny? You wanna sleep tonight?" 

"I don't want to see anyone smiling! This is no locker room here. If I see one 
person smile it's going to be jumping jacks for everyone for a long time!" Hell- 
mann assures them. 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


Picking up on the prisoners' need to lighten their grim surroundings, Hell- 
mann tells Burdan a joke for the benefit of the grim prisoners: "Officer, did you 
hear the one about the dog with no legs? Every night, his owner would take him 
out for a drag. " He and Burdan laugh but note that the prisoners do not laugh. 
Burdan chides him, "They don't like your joke, Officer." 

"Did you like my joke, 5486?" 

Jerry-5486 prisoner answers truthfully, "No." 

"Come out here and do ten push-ups for not liking my joke. And do five more 
for smiling, Fifteen in all." 

Hellmann is on a roll. He makes all the prisoners face the wall; then, when 
they turn around, he shows them the "one-armed pencil salesman." He puts one 
hand down his pants and puts his finger at his crotch, pushing out his pants as if 
he had an erection. The prisoners are told not to laugh. Some do laugh and are 
then forced do push-ups or sit-ups. 3401 says he didn't think it was funny, but he 
has to do push-ups for being honest. Next comes singing their numbers. Hell- 
mann asks Sarge-2093 if that sounded like singing. 

"It sounded like singing to me, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann makes him do push-ups for disagreeing with his judgment. 

Unexpectedly, Sarge asks, "May I do more, sir?" 

"You can do ten if you like." 

Then Sarge challenges him in an even more dramatic way: "Shall I do them 
until I drop?" 

"Sure, whatever." Hellmann and Burdan are unsure how to react to this 
taunt, but the prisoners look at one another in dismay, knowing that Sarge may 
set new criteria for self-inflicted punishment that will then be imposed on them. 
He is becoming a sickjoke to them all. 

When next the prisoners are asked to count off in a complicated order, Bur- 
dan adds mockingly, "That shouldn't be so hard for boys with so much education ] " 
In a sense, he is picking up on the current conservative ridicule of educated col- 
lege people as "effete intellectuals snobs," even though, of course, he is a college 
student himself. 

The prisoners are asked if they need their blankets and beds. All say they do. 
"And what," Hellmann asks, "did you boys do to deserve beds and blankets?" "We 
took the foxtails out of our blankets," says one of them. He tells them to never say 
"foxtails." They should call them "stickers." Here is a simple instance of power de- 
termining language use, which, in turn, creates reality. Once the prisoner calls 
them "stickers," Burdan says that they should get their pillows and blankets. Hell- 
mann comes back with blankets and pillows under his arms. He then hands them 
out to everyone except Prisoner 5704. He asks him why it took him so long to get 
to work. "Do you feel like having a pillow? Why should I give you a pillow if you 
didn't feel like working?" "Good karma," answers 5704, feeling a bit playful. 

"I'll ask you again, why should I give you a pillow?" 


The Lucifer Effect 

"Because I'm asking you to, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"But you didn't get to work until ten minutes after everyone else did," 
says Hellmann. He adds, "See to it that in the future you do work when you 
are told." Despite this misbehavior, Hellmann finally relents and gives him the pil- 

Not to be totally upstaged by Hellmann, Burdan tells 5704, "Thank him real 

"Thank you." 

"Say it again. Say, 'Bless you, Mr. Correctional Officer.' " The sarcasm seeps 
through heavily. 

Hellmann successfully isolates 5704 from his revolutionary comrades by 
making him beg for a pillow. Simple self-interest is starting to win out over pris- 
oner solidarity. 

Happy Birthday, Prisoner 5704 

Prisoner Terry-5486 reminds the guards of his request to sing "Happy Birthday" 
to 5704, which is a curious request at this point given that the prisoners are so 
tired and the guards are about to let them return to their cells and to sleep. Per- 
haps it is a measure of their connection with normal rituals in the outside world 
or a small way to normalize what is rapidly approaching Abnormal. 

Burdan tells Hellmann, "We have a point of discussion from Prisoner 5486, 
Officer, he wants to do the 'Happy Birthday' song." Hellmann is upset when the 
birthday song is intended for 5704. "It's your birthday, and you didn't work!" 

The prisoner replies that he shouldn't have to work on his birthday. The 
guards go down the line and ask each one to say aloud whether he does or does 
not want to sing the birthday song. Each agrees that it is right to sing the birthday 
song to 5704 tonight. Prisoner Hubbie-7258 is then ordered to lead the others in 
singing "Happy Birthday" — the only pleasant sound in this place all day and 
night. The first time through, there is a mixture of ways in which the recipient is 
addressed — some sing happy birthday to "comrade," others to "5704." As soon 
as this happens, Hellmann and Burdan both scream at them. 

Burdan reminds them, "This gentleman's name is 5704. Now take it from 
the top." 

Hellmann compliments 7258 for his singing: "You give them a swing tempo, 
and then you sing it straight." He says that about cut-time music, showing ofiF a 
bit of his musical knowledge. But he then requests they sing the song again in a 
more familiar style, and they do. But their performance is not good enough, so 
again they are told, "Let's have a little enthusiasm! A boy's birthday only happens 
once a year." This prisoner-initiated break in routine to share some positive feel- 
ings among themselves is turned into another occasion of learning routinized 
dominance and submission. 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


The Final Breakdown and Release of 8612 

After lights out, and after Doug-8612 is finally turned out of solitary for the nth 
time, he goes ballistic: "I mean, Jesus Christ, I'm burning up inside! Don't you 

The prisoner is screaming his angry confusion and torment to the warden 
during his second visit with Jaffe. "I want to get out! This is all fucked up inside! I 
can't stand another night! Ijust can't take it anymore! I gotta have a lawyer! Do I 
have a right to ask for a lawyer? Contact my mother!" 

Trying to remind himself that this is just an experiment, he continues raving, 
"You're messing up my head, man, my head! This is an experiment; that contract 
is not serfdom! You have no right to fuck with my head!" 

He threatens to do anything necessary to get out, even to slit his wrists! "I'll 
do anything to get out! I'll wreck your cameras, and I'll hurt the guards!" 

The warden tries his best to comfort him, but 8612 is having none of it; 
he cries and screams louder and louder. Jaffe assures 8612 that as soon as he 
can contact one of the psychological counselors his request will be seriously 

A short while later, Craig Haney returns from his late dinner and, after listen- 
ing to Jaffe's tape recording of this dramatic scene, he interviews 8612 to deter- 
mine whether he should be released immediately based on such severe emotional 
distress. At the time, we were all uncertain about the legitimacy of 8612's reac- 
tions; he might be just playacting. A check of his background information re- 
vealed that he was also a leading antiwar activist at his university, just last year. 
How could he really be "breaking down" in only thirty-six hours? 

8612 was indeed confused, as he revealed to us later: "I couldn't decide 
whether the prison experience had really freaked me out, or whether I had in- 
duced those reactions [purposefully]." 

The conflict that Craig Haney was experiencing over being forced to make 
this decision on his own, while I was out having dinner, is vividly expressed in his 
later analysis: 

Although in retrospect it seems like an easy call, at the time it was a daunt- 
ing one. I was a 2nd year graduate student, we had invested a great deal of 
time, effort, and money into this project, and I knew that the early release 
of a participant would compromise the experimental design we had care- 
fully drawn up and implemented. As experimenters, none of us had pre- 
dicted an event like this, and of course, we had devised no contingency 
plan to cover it. On the other hand, it was obvious that this young man was 
more disturbed by his brief experience in the Stanford Prison than any of 
us had expected any of the participants to be even by the end of 2 weeks. So 
I decided to release Prisoner 8612, going with the ethical/humanitarian 
decision over the experimental one. 1 ' 


The Lucifer Effect 

Craig contacted 8612's girlfriend, who quickly came by and collected him 
and his belongings. Craig reminded the two of them that if this distress contin- 
ued, he could visit Student Health in the morning because we had arranged for 
some of its staff to help deal with any such reactions. 

Fortunately, Craig made the right decision based on both humane considera- 
tions and legal ones. It was also the right decision considering the probable nega- 
tive effect on the staff and inmates of keeping 8612 imprisoned in his state of 
emotional disarray. However, when Craig later informed Curt and me about his 
decision to release 8612, we were skeptical and thought that he had been taken 
in, conned by a good acting job. However, after a long discussion of all the evi- 
dence, we agreed that he had done the right thing. But then we had to explain 
why this extreme reaction had occurred so suddenly, almost at the very start of 
our two-week adventure. Even though personality tests had revealed no hint of 
mental instability, we persuaded ourselves that the emotional distress 8612 re- 
vealed was the product of his overly sensitive personality and his over reaction to 
our simulated prison conditions. Together Craig, Curt, and I engaged in a bit of 
"groupthink," advancing the rationalization that there must have been a flaw in 
our selection process that had allowed such a "damaged" person to slip by our 
screening — while ignoring the other possibility that the situational forces operat- 
ing in this prison simulation had become overwhelming for him. 

Consider, for a moment, the meaning of that judgment. Here we were in the 
midst of a study designed to demonstrate the power of situational forces over dis- 
positional tendencies, yet we were making a dispositional attribution! 

In retrospect, Craig expressed the fallacy in our thinking aptly: "It was only 
later that we appreciated this obvious irony, that we had 'dispositionally ex- 
plained' the first truly unexpected and extraordinary demonstration of situa- 
tional power in our study by resorting to precisely the kind of thinking we had 
designed the study to challenge and critique."" 

Confusion remained about 8612's ulterior motives. On the one hand, we 
wondered, was he really out of control, suffering from an extreme stress reaction, 
and so of course had to be released? Alternatively, had he started out by pretend- 
ing to be "crazy," knowing that if he did a good job, we would have to release him? 
It might be that, in spite of himself, he had ended up temporarily "crazed" by his 
over-the-top method acting. In a later report, 8612 complicates any simple un- 
derstanding of his reactions: "I left when I should have stayed. That was very bad. 
The revolution isn't going to be fun, and I must see that. I should have stayed be- 
cause it helps the fascists knowing that [revolutionary] leaders will desert when 
things get rough, that they are just manipulators. And I should have fought for 
what was right, and not thought of my interests.'"' 

Shortly after 8612 was terminated, one of the guards overheard the prison- 
ers in Cell 2 discussing a plot in which Doug would return the next day with a 
band of his buddies to trash our prison and liberate the prisoners. It sounded to 
me like a far-fetched rumor until a guard reported seeing 8612 sneaking around 

Monday's Prisoner Rebellion 


the hallways of the Psychology Department the next morning. I ordered the 
guards to capture him and return him to the prison since he had probably been 
released under false pretenses: not sick, just tricking us. Now I knew that I had to 
prepare for an all-out assault on my prison. How could we avert a major violent 
confrontation? What could we do to keep our prison functioning — and oh, yes, 
our experiment also continuing? 


Tuesday's Double Trouble: 
Visitors and Rioters 

Our prisoners are looking raggedy and bleary-eyed, and our little prison is be- 
ginning to smell like a men's toilet in a New York subway station. Seems that some 
guards have made toilet visits a privilege to be awarded infrequently and never 
after lights out. During the night, prisoners have to urinate and defecate in buck- 
ets in their cells, and some guards refuse to allow them to be emptied till morning. 
Complaints are coming fast and furiously from many of the prisoners. 8612's 
breakdown of last night seemed to create a ripple effect among the prisoners, who 
talked about not being able to take it anymore — according to what we were pick- 
ing up from their bugged cells. 

With that as our canvas, we had to paint a brighter picture for the parents, 
friends, and girlfriends of the prisoners who would be coming to visit tonight. As 
a parent, I surely would not let my son continue in such a place if I saw such ex- 
haustion and obvious signs of stress after only three days. Contemplating ways to 
cope with that impending challenge had to take a backseat to the more urgent 
issue of the rumored break-in by rioters that 8612 could bring down upon us at 
any time. Perhaps it would come today, maybe even synchronized with visiting 
hours, when we would be most vulnerable. 

The day is just beginning for the morning shift at 2 A.M. Apparently the night 
shift has hung around and all six guards are on the Yard at the same time after 
they have conferred in the guards' quarters about the need for stricter rules to 
control the prisoners and prevent more rebellions. 

Seeing them all together makes clear that size does matter in deciding who 
will emerge as shift leader. The tallest guards are Hellmann, leader of the night 
shift; Vandy, moving into leadership of the morning shift; and Arnett, day shift 
majordomo. The shortest guards, Burdan and Ceros, have become henchmen of 
their shift leaders. Both are very bossy, quite aggressive vocally — shouting in the 
prisoners' faces — and decidedly more physical with the prisoners. They push 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


them around, poke them, pull them out of lineups, and are the ones who drag re- 
luctant prisoners into solitary. We are getting reports that they sometimes trip 
prisoners down the stairs when walking them to the toilet or push them into the 
wall urinals when they are alone with them in the bathroom. It is evident that 
they love their nightsticks. They are constantly holding the billy clubs close to 
their chests, banging them against the bars and the doors or on the table to loudly 
make their presence known. Some analysts might claim that they are using their 
weapons to compensate for their smaller stature. But whatever the psychological 
dynamic involved, it is clear that they are becoming the meanest of the guards. 

However, Markus and Varnish, who are also on the shorter side, have been 
relatively passive, much quieter, less vocal, and less active than the rest. I have 
asked the warden to make them more assertive. The Landry brothers are an inter- 
esting pair. Geoff Landry is a bit taller than Hellmann and has vied with him for 
dominance on the night shift, but he is no match for the creative exercises that 
our budding John Wayne continually concocted. Instead, he moves in to give or- 
ders and to exercise control, then drifts back and out of the scene over and over 
again in a kind of vacillation that's not seen in any other guard. Tonight he is 
not carrying his nightstick at all; later on he even removes his silver reflecting 
sunglasses — a big no-no, according to our experimental protocol. His shorter 
brother, John, has been tough on the prisoners, but he is nevertheless "going by 
the book." He is not aggressively excessive, as Arnett is, but he does usually back 
up the boss with firm, no-nonsense orders. 

The prisoners are all about the same average height, about five-eight to five- 
ten, except for Glenn-3401, who is the shortest of all, around five-two, and tall 
Paul-5 704, who is tallest at maybe six feet two. Interestingly, 5704 is moving into 


The Lucifer Eff ect 

the leadership position among the prisoners. He appears more self-confident 
lately and assured in his rebelliousness. His mates have noticed this change in 
him, as was evidenced by their electing him spokesperson for the Stanford County 
Jail Prisoners' Grievance Committee, which had earlier negotiated with me for a 
series of concessions and rights. 


For yet another count at 2:30 A.M., the Yard is a bit crowded, with six guards pres- 
ent and seven prisoners lined up against the wall. Even though there is no reason 
for the night shift to hang around longer, they do so on their own. Maybe they 
want to check out how the morning shift handles their routine. 86 1 2 is gone, and 
someone else is missing. Vandy drags the reluctant, sleepy Prisoner 819 out of 
Cell 2 to complete the lineup. The guards are berating some prisoners for not 
wearing their stocking caps, reminding them that they are an essential part of 
their prison uniform. 

Vandy: "Here it is, time for count. How do you like that?" 

One prisoner says, "Fine, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"How about the rest of you?" 

Sarge: "Wonderful, Mr. Correctional Officer!" 

"Let's hear it from all of you, come on. You can do it better than that! 

"Just fine, Mr. Correctional Officer." 


"What time is it?" 

"Time for a count, Mr. Correctional Officer," one prisoner answers in a weak 
voice.' The prisoners are all lined up against the wall, hands against the wall, legs 
spread apart. They are clearly sluggish counting this early because they have slept 
only a few hours. 

Even though his shift time is over, Burdan is still being very assertive, shout- 
ing orders as he stalks around, waving his big stick. He pulls someone out of line 

"Okay, young man, you gonna do some push-ups for me!" he shouts. 

Now Varnish speaks up for the first time: "Okay, let's have your numbers. 
Starting with the right. Now!" Maybe he feels more confident among a larger 
group of guards. 

Then Geoff Landry gets into the act: "Wait a minute, this guy over here, 
7258, doesn't even know his number backwards!" But why is Geoff still active on 
this next shift? He walks around with his hands in his pockets, more like an unin- 
volved tourist than a prison guard. In fact, why is the whole night shift continu- 
ing to hang around after a long, tedious night? They should be on their way to bed 
now. Their presence is causing confusion and uncertainty about who should be 
giving orders. The counts follow the same formerly clever routines that are now 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


becoming tedious: by twos, by ID numbers, backward, and singsong variations. 
Hellmann, having decided that this is not his cup of tea, says nothing, watches for 
a while, and then quietly exits. 

The old rules are repeated, and they too are to be sung. As the rule reading 
goes on, Vandy exhorts the inmates to be louder, faster, crisper. The weary prison- 
ers comply, their voices blending in dissonant synchrony. It is time for some new 
rules. So the guards, on their own, add some: 

"Prisoners must participate in all prison activities. That means counts!" 

"Beds must be made and personal effects must be neat and orderly!" 

"Floors must be spotless!" 

"Prisoners must not move, tamper with, or deface walls, ceilings, windows, 
doors, or any other prison property!" 

Varnish has set up this drill that the prisoners must understand perfectly 
well, in both substance and style. If they do a halfhearted job, he simply forces 
them to repeat the rules over and over again in mind-numbing variations. 

Varnish: "Prisoners must never operate cell lighting!" 

Prisoners: "Prisoners must never operate cell lighting." 

Vandy: "When must prisoners operate cell lighting?" 

Prisoners (now in perfect unison): "Never. " 

They all sound exhausted, but their responses are crisper and louder than 
they were last night. All of a sudden, Varnish has become a leader — he's leading 
the recitation of the rules, insisting upon perfection from the prisoners, exerting 
dominance over them, and patronizing them. A new rule is proclaimed that is ob- 
viously geared to taunt Paul-5704, our nicotine addict. 

Varnish: "Smoking is a privilege!" 

Prisoners: "Smoking is a privilege." 

"What is smoking?" 

"A privilege." 


"A privilege." 

"Smoking will be allowed only after meals or at the discretion of the guard." 
Varnish: "I don't like this monotone, let's go up the scale." 
The prisoners comply, repeating the words in a higher register. 
"I suggest you start a little lower, you can't go higher from your top note." 
He wants the prisoners to ascend the scale as they're speaking. Vandy 

Varnish: "That's lovely!" 

Varnish is reading these new rules from a sheet held in one hand, while in the 
other he holds his club. The rest of the guards are also caressing their clubs, ex- 
cept for Geoff L., whose continued presence makes no sense at all. As Varnish 
leads the prisoners in reciting the rules, Vandy, Ceros, and Burdan move into and 
out of the cells, in and around the prisoners, looking for the missing handcuff 
keys, weapons, or anything suspicious. 


The Lucifer Effect 

Ceros forces Sarge out of line and forces him to stand with his hands against 
the opposite wall, legs spread, as he blindfolds him. He then handcuffs Sarge, or- 
ders him to collect the refuse bucket, and then leads him to dump it in the toilet 
outside the prison. 

One after another each prisoner shouts out, "The superintendent's!" as the 
answer to the question posed by Varnish: "Whose orders are supreme?" It's my 
turn on our early-morning shift to tape-record the key events while Curt and 
Craig catch some shut-eye. Seems strange to hear this assertion that my orders 
are "supreme." In my other life, I make it a point never to give orders, only sugges- 
tions or hints about what I want or need. 

Varnish eggs them on, forcing them to sing out "Punishment" as the last 
word in the rule about what happens if any of the other rules are not obeyed. 
They must sing the feared word at their highest pitch again and again to make 
them feel ridiculous and humiliated. 

This has been going on for nearly forty minutes, and the prisoners are 
squirming; their legs are getting stiff, their backs are aching, but none of them is 
complaining. Burdan orders the prisoners to turn around and face front for a uni- 
form inspection. 

Then Vandy questions 1037 about why he doesn't have on his stocking cap. 
"One of the guards took it away, sir." 

Vandy: "I don't know of any correctional officer who took it. Are you saying 
that the correctional officers really don't know what's happening?" 
"No, I'm not saying that, Mr. Correctional Officer." 
Vandy: "So it was you who lost the cap." 
1037: "Yes, I did, Mr. Correctional Officer." 
Vandy: "Fifteen push-ups." 
"Would you like me to count?" 

Vandy makes it public that prisoner 3401 has been complaining of being 


Varnish responds, "We don't like sick prisoners. Why don't you do twenty sit- 
ups, right now, to make you feel better?" He then accuses 3401 of being a crybaby 
and takes away his pillow. 

"Okay, everyone who has a stocking cap, go back to your room. Those who 
don't, stand there. You can sit on your beds but not lie down. Actually, make your 
beds — no wrinkles whatsoever." 

Then Varnish orders synchronized group push-ups for the three bareheaded 
inmates. He jumps down off the table where he has been sitting as he bangs his 
billy club for emphasis. He stands over the prisoners, shouting "Down, up!" as 
they do their punishment ritual. Paul-5704 stops, protesting that he just can't do 
any more. Varnish relents and allows the prisoners to stand up against the wall. 

"Okay, you all stand by your beds until you find three stocking caps. If you're 
unable to find your stocking cap, put a towel on your head. 

"819, what kind of a day was it?" 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


"A wonderful day, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"Okay, make your beds, without any wrinkles whatsoever, then sit on them." 

By this time, the other guards have left, and only the morning shift guards re- 
main, including the backup guard, Morison, quietly observing all this authoritar- 
ian abuse. He tells the prisoners that they can lie down if they wish, and they 
immediately hit the sack and are in dreamland almost instantly. 

An hour or so later, the warden stops by, looking very dapper in a tweedy 
jacket and tie. He seems to be growing a little each day, or maybe he is standing 
more erect than I can recall his standing in the past. 

"Attention, attention," he intones. "When the prisoners are properly attired, 
they should line up in the yard for further inspection." 

The guards go to Cells 2 and 3 and tell the prisoners to get up and go out into 
the Yard. Once again, their brief nap is disrupted. 

Out come the occupants of Cells 2 and 3 once more. Stew-819 has found his 
stocking cap; Rich- 1037 is wearing a towel turban style, while Paul-5704 wears 
his towel in Little Red Riding Hood style, draped over his long black locks. 

Varnish inquires of Sarge: "How did you sleep?" 

"Wonderful, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

5704 won't go that far and simply says, "Good." Varnish turns him to face 
the wall as another guard calls out a primary rule: 

"Prisoners must always address the guards as 'Mr. Correctional Officer.' " 

5704 does push-ups for not having added that note of respect to his half- 
hearted lie, "Good." 

The warden walks slowly down the file of prisoners, like a general reviewing 
his troops: "This prisoner seems to have a problem with his hair, and he also 
seems to have a problem with proper identification. Before any further activity, he 
needs to be properly identified." The warden moves down the line, evaluating the 
problem prisoners, and asks the guards to take necessary remedial action. "This 
prisoner's hair is sticking out underneath his towel." He insists that the ID num- 
bers be sown back on or replaced by numbers inked on with a Sharpie pen. 

"Tomorrow is Visitors' Day. That means that we want to show all our visitors 
what good-looking prisoners we have. Isn't that right? That means that Prisoner 
819 has to learn how to wear his stocking cap. I would suggest that at some fu- 
ture time, Prisoners 3401 and 5704 be taught to wear their towels in the way 
that Prisoner 1037 is wearing it. Now back to your cells." 

The prisoners go back to sleep until awakened for breakfast. It's time for a 
new day, and the day shift comes on duty. A new count is tried out, this time 
cheerleader style, each prisoner cheering his number: 

"Gimme a 5, gimme a 7, gimme an 0, gimme a 4. What does that spell? 
5704! " Arnett and John Landry and Markus are back with this new torment. Up 
and down the line, each prisoner steps forward to give this cheerleader rendition 
of his number. And on and on and . . . 


The Lucifer Effect 

Identity and Role Boundaries Are Becoming Permeable 

After less than three days into this bizarre situation, some of the students role- 
playing prison guards have moved far beyond mere playacting. They have inter- 
nalized the hostility, negative affect, and mind-set characteristic of some real 
prison guards, as is evident from their shift reports, retrospective diaries, and per- 
sonal reflections. 

Ceros is proud of the way the guards "picked it up today," saying, "We were 
more orderly, received excellent results from the prisoners." Still, he is concerned 
about possible danger: "Worried that the quietness may be deceptive, may be 
plans for a breakout are afoot.'" 

Varnish reveals his initial reluctance to get into the guard role, which was so 
apparent that I had to get the warden to set him straight. "It wasn't till the second 
day that I decided I would have to force myself to really go about this thing in the 
right way. I had to intentionally shut off all feelings I had towards any of the pris- 
oners, to lose sympathy and any respect for them. I began to treat them as coldly 
and harshly as possible verbally. I would not let show any feelings they might like 
to see, like anger or despair." His group identification has also become stronger: "I 
saw the guards as a group of pleasant guys charged with the necessity of main- 
taining order among a group of persons unworthy of trust or sympathy — the 
prisoners." He notes further that the toughness of the guards peaked at tonight's 
2:30 counts, and he likes that. 3 

Vandy, who has begun to share the dominant role with Varnish on the morn- 
ing shift, is not as active today as earlier because he is very tired, feeling subdued 
from his lack of sleep. But he is pleased to see the prisoners getting so totally into 
their roles: "They don't see it as an experiment. It is real and they are fighting to 
keep their dignity. But we are always there to show them who is boss." 

He reports feeling increasingly bossy and forgetting that this is just an experi- 
ment. He finds himself just "wanting to punish those who did not obey so that 
they would show the rest of the prisoners the right way to behave." 

The depersonalization of the prisoners and the spreading extent of dehu- 
manization are beginning to affect him, too: "As I got angrier and angrier, I didn't 
question this behavior as much. I couldn't let it affect me, so I started hiding my- 
self deeper behind my role. It was the only way of not hurting yourself. I was 
really lost on what was happening but didn't even think about quitting." 

Blaming the victims for their sorry condition — created by our failure to pro- 
vide adequate shower and sanitation facilities — became common among the 
staff. We see this victim blame in operation as Vandy complains, "I got tired of see- 
ing the prisoners in rags, smelling bad, and the prison stink." 4 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 



In my role as prison superintendent, my mind has become focused on the most 
important issue facing the head of any institution: What must I do to ensure the 
safety and security of the institution in my charge? The threat to our prison by the 
rumored assault forced my other role as researcher into the background. How 
must I deal here and now with the impending break-in by 8612's party of 

Our morning staff meeting reviewed many options and settled on transfer- 
ring the experiment to the old city jail, which was abandoned when the new cen- 
tral police station was completed, the one where our prisoners had been booked 
on Sunday. I remembered that the sergeant had asked that morning why we did 
not want to use the old jail for our study since it was vacant and had large cells 
available. Had I thought of it before, I would have, but we had already put into 
place the recording equipment, arrangements with the university food service, 
and other logistical details that would be easier to handle from the Psychology De- 
partment's building. This new alternative was just what we needed. 

While I am away making arrangements for new facilities, Curt Banks will 
handle the Prisoners' Grievance Committee's second meeting. Craig Haney will 
supervise the preparations for visiting times, and Dave Jaffe will oversee the day's 
usual activities of his correctional officers. 

I am pleased that the sergeant can meet me on such short notice. We meet in 
the old jail downtown on Ramona Street. I explain my predicament as the need to 
avoid a physical force confrontation, like the kind that happened last year when 
the police and students clashed on campus. I urge his cooperation. Together we 
inspect the site, as though I were a prospective buyer. It is perfect for a transfer of 
the remainder of the study and it will add even more prison realism to this experi- 

Back at police headquarters, I fill out a set of official forms and request that 
the jail be ready for our use by nine that night (right after visiting hours). I also 
promise that for the next ten days we will keep it spanking clean, the prisoners 
will work at it, and I will pay for any damages that might occur. We make sure to 
shake hands with the firm shake that separates sissies from real men. I thank him 
profusely for saving the day. What a relief; that was easier than I had imagined. 

Relieved by this stroke of luck and proud of my quick thinking, I treat myself 
to a cup of espresso and a cannoli, soaking in some rays at the outdoor cafe on yet 
another balmy summer day. It is still paradise in Palo Alto. Nothing has changed 
since Sunday. 

Shortly after my celebratory staff briefing about our transfer plans, a dis- 
heartening call comes in from the Police Department: No go! The city manager is 
worried about getting sued if someone gets hurt while they are on the city prop- 


The Lucifer Effect 

erty. Issues of false imprisonment are also raised. I beg the sergeant to allow me to 
try to persuade the city manager that his fears were unwarranted. I urge institu- 
tional cooperation, reminding him of my connection with Chief Zurcher. I plead 
for his understanding that someone is more likely to get hurt if there were to be a 
break-in at our low-security facility. "Please, can't we work it out?" "Sorry, but the 
answer is no; I hate to let you down, but it is purely a matter of business." I have 
lost my smart move for this righteous prisoner transfer, and clearly I am also los- 
ing my perspective. 

What must that police officer be thinking about a psychology professor who 
believes he is a prison superintendent, wildly fearful about some assault on "his 
prison?" "Nutcase," maybe? "Over the top," likely. "Psycho psychologist," probably. 

You know what? I told myself, who cares what he's thinking? Gotta move on, 
time is pressing. Ditch that plan, move to another: First, put an informant into the 
prisoner mix to get better information about the impending riot. Then arrange to 
foil the rioters by pretending the study is over when they break in. We will disas- 
semble the prison cells to make it look as though everyone has gone home, and I 
will tell them that we have decided to discontinue the research, so no heroics, just 
go back where you came from. 

After they leave, we will have time to fortify the prison and generate better 
options. We had found a large storage room on the top floor of the building where 
we would house the inmates right after visiting hours — assuming that the break- 
in does not occur during that time. Then later that night we will return them and 
fix up the prison so it will be more resistant to assault. Our shop technician is al- 
ready working on ways to fortify the entrance doors, put up an outside surveil- 
lance camera, and enhance prison security in other ways. Seems like a sensible 
backup plan, no? 

Obviously, I was irrationally obsessed with the imagined assault on "my 

Planting an Informer 

We need more precise information about the impending attack, so I decide to 
put an informer into the jail, a presumed replacement for the released prisoner. 
David G. is a student of mine who had the kind of analytical mind we needed. 
Surely, his big bushy beard and unkempt appearance will endear him to the pris- 
oners as one of their own. He had helped out earlier with videotaping during the 
initial stages of the study, to relieve Curt, and so had a sense of the place and the 
action. David agrees to participate for a few days and to give us whatever informa- 
tion he could glean that might be helpful. We will then have him sent to one of the 
staff offices on some pretext so he can spill the beans. 

Dave quickly discovers the guards' new doctrine, which one of them makes 
explicit: "Good prisoners will have no cares, troublemakers will have no peace." 
Most of the prisoners are in the process of deciding that it does not make sense to 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


accept their prisoner role in its most contentious form by constantly opposing the 
guards. They are beginning to accept their fate and to cope day by day with what- 
ever is done to them because "the prospect of two weeks of hassling over sleep, 
meals, beds, and blankets was too much." But Dave notes a new mood that had 
not been present earlier. "Paranoia strikes deep here," he later said about the ru- 
mors of escape. 5 

No one questions David's introduction into the study. Nonetheless, he feels 
that the guards know he is different from the others — but they aren't quite sure 
what he is doing there. They do not know his identity and simply treat him like all 
the others — badly. David is soon distressed over the bathroom routine: 

"I had to shit in 5 minutes, to piss with a bag over my head while someone 
tells me where the urinal is. I couldn't do it, in fact, I couldn't even piss in the uri- 
nal, had to go to the john and close it and know that somebody's not going to 
jump on me!"* 

He befriends Rich- 1037, his Cell 2 mate; they quickly bond. But all too 
quickly. In a matter of hours, our trusted informer, David G., is transformed, 
wearing the old uniform of Doug-8612. Dave reports "feeling guilty being sent to 
rat on these great guys, and was relieved when there was really nothing to tell.'" 
But was there really no information to share? 

1037 tells David that the prisoners cannot quit at any time. He goes on to ad- 
vise him not to be as rebellious as he was in his first counts. It is not the best thing 
for them to do at this time. The way to plan an escape, 1037 confides, is to make 
"the prisoners play along with the guards so that we can get them at their weak 

In fact, David told us later that 8612 had not organized any escape plot at all! 
However, we had already wasted a lot of time and energy in preparing to blunt the 
attack. "Sure a few of these guys sort of dreamed of their friends coming during 
visitors' hours and busting them out," he said, "or of slipping away during wash- 
room breaks, but it was clear it was all a dream" — a scrap of hope to hold 
on to." 

We gradually realize that David has violated his verbal contract with us to 
enact the informer role in this emergency. Accordingly, when someone steals the 
keys to the police handcuffs later that day, David tells us that he has no idea where 
they are. He had lied, as we learned from his diary report at the end of the experi- 
ment: "I knew where the handcuff key was after a while, but didn't tell, at least 
not until it didn't matter anymore. I would have told, but I was not about to betray 
these guys right in front of them." 

This rather sudden and amazing transformation into the prisoner mentality 
was even more evident in some of David's other feedback. He felt that during his 
two days in our jail, he was no different from the others, "with the exception that 
I had knowledge of when I would get out, but even that knowledge became less 
and less certain since I was depending on people on the outside to get me out. I al- 


The Lucifer Effect 

ready hated this situation." And at the end of his first day in the Stanford County 
Jail, David, the informer, tells us, "I fell asleep that night feeling dirty, guilty, 

Grievances Are Vented 

The same committee of three prisoners that I met with earlier came armed with a 
long list of grievances that they had delivered to Curt Banks while I was away 
dealing with the city police. The same three -prisoner team, headed by 5704, 
along with 4325 and 1037, were elected by all the prisoners. Curt listened re- 
spectfully to their complaints. Among them: unsanitary conditions due to toilet 
restrictions; no clean water to wash hands before meals; no showers; fear of com- 
municable disease; handcuffs and leg chain irons too tight, causing bruises and 
abrasions. They also wanted church services on Sundays. In addition, they re- 
quested the option of alternating the chain from one leg to the other, exercise op- 
portunities, recreation time, clean uniforms, allowing prisoners to communicate 
between cells, overtime pay for Sunday work, and, in general, the opportunity to 
be doing something more valuable than just lying around. 

Curt listened impassively, as he usually did, without any show of emotion. 
William Curtis Banks, a light-skinned African-American man in his late twenties, 
father of two children, a second-year graduate student proud to have made it into 
the world's top psychology department, was as hardworking and high achieving 
as any student I had ever worked with. He had no time for frivolity, excess, weak- 
nesses, excuses, or fools. Curt kept his emotions to himself behind a stoic facade. 

Tim-4325, who was also a reserved person, must have interpreted Curt's de- 
tached manner as his being displeased. He hastened to add that these were not 
really "grievances," rather "just suggestions." Curt thanked them politely for 
their suggestions and promised to share them with his superiors for their consider- 
ation. I wonder whether they noticed that he took no notes and that they had failed 
to give him their penciled list for the record. What was most important to our Sys- 
tem was to provide the semblance of democracy in this authoritarian setting. 

However, citizen dissent demands changes in the system. If taken wisely, such 
change prevents open disobedience and rebellion. But when dissent is co-opted by 
the system, disobedience is curtailed and rebellion shelved. In fact, without get- 
ting any assurances of reasonable attempts to address any of their complaints, 
these elected officials had little likelihood of achieving any of their goals. The 
Stanford County Jail Prisoners' Grievance Committee failed in its main mission 
to make a dent in the system armor. However, they left feeling good about hav- 
ing openly vented and having some authority, even a low-level one, listen to their 

The Prisoners Make Contact with the Outside World 

The prisoners' first letters were invitations to potential visitors, some of whom 
would be coming by tonight, on this, the third day of the experiment. The second 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


round of letters could be to visitors invited for the next visitor night or to any 
friend or family member who was too far away to visit. After the prisoners com- 
posed them on our official stationery, the guards collected them for mailing, and 
of course, as duly noted in one of the rules, they were screened for security. The 
following samples give some sense of what the prisoners were feeling, and at least 
in one case came as a major surprise to us. 

Handsome Ail-American Hubbie-7258 suggests to his girlfriend that she 
"bring some interesting pictures or posters to break the boredom of sitting on a 
bed and staring at blank walls." 

Tough guy, Zapata-mustached Rich- 1037 conveys his anger to a buddy: "It's 
not like a job anymore, I'm fucked because you can't get out of here." 

Stew-819, whose complaints have been increasing, sends mixed messages to 
his friend: "The food here is as good and plentiful as the 3rd day of Ebenezer's sec- 
ond voyage to Thailand. Not much happens here of interest, basically I sleep, 
shout my number, and get hassled. It will be great to get out." 

The diminutive Asian- American prisoner, Glenn-3401, makes clear his dis- 
dain for this place: "Having a miserable time. Please fire bomb Jordan Hall as a di- 
versionary tactic. My buddies and I are damn frustrated. We intend to make a run 
for it as soon as possible, but first I've promised to crack a few craniums on the 
way out." Then he adds a puzzling P.S.: "Be careful not to let the nitwits know 
you're real..." Real? 

The surprise came from a letter by nicotine-addicted Paul-5704, the new 
leader of the prisoners. In that letter, 5704 does a stupid thing for a self-styled 
revolutionary. He tips off his girlfriend — in an unsecured letter — that he plans to 
write a story about his experience for a local underground newspaper when he 
gets out. He has discovered that the Office of Naval Research, of the Department 
of Defense, is supporting my research.' Consequently, he has hatched a conspir- 
acy theory arguing that we are trying to find out how best to imprison student 
protestors who are opposing the Vietnam War! Obviously he is not an experienced 
revolutionary, because it was not smart to discuss his subversive plans in a letter 
that we would be likely to screen. 

Little did he know that I myself was a radical, activist professor, against the 
Vietnam War since 1966, when I had organized one of the nation's first all-night 
university "teach-ins" at New York University, organized a large-scale walk-out at 
NYU's graduation ceremony to protest the university's awarding an honorary de- 
gree to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and in the last year, at Stanford, 
I had organized thousands of students into constructive challenges to the continu- 
ing war. I was a kindred political spirit but not a mindlessly kindred revolutionary. 

His letter begins, "I have made arrangements with The Tribe and The Berke- 
ley Barb [alternative free radical newspapers] to carry the story when I get out." 
5704 then brags about his new status in our little prison community: "Today I 
have gotten together a grievance committee of which I am chairman. Tomorrow 
I am organizing a Credit Union for our collective wages." He goes on to describe 


The Lucifer Effect 

that he is benefiting from this experience: "I am learning a lot about revolution- 
ary incarceration tactics. Guards accomplish nothing because you just can't keep 
the old freak morale down. Most of us here are freaks and I don't really think any- 
one will crack before this thing is over. A few are starting to get servile, but they 
exert no influence on the rest of us." In addition, he signs off with a big, bold 
"Your prisoner, 5704." 

I decide not to share this information with the guards, who might really 
abuse him in retaliation. But it is upsetting to think that my research grant status 
is being accused of being a tool of the administration's war machine, especially 
since I have worked to encourage effective dissent by student activists. That grant 
was originally given to fund empirical and conceptual research on the effects of 
anonymity, of conditions of deindividuation, and on interpersonal aggression. 
When the idea for the prison experiment occurred, I got the granting agency to 
extend the funding to pay for this research as well, without any other additional 
funding. I am angry that Paul and probably his Berkeley buddies are spreading 
this falsehood. 

Whether driven by his sporadic mood shifts, nicotine cravings, or his desire to 
make exciting material for his journalistic expose, 5704 has created a lot of diffi- 
culty for all of us today — a day when we already had too much to handle. With 
the help of his cellmates, he also bent the bars on Cell l's door, for which he got 
Hole time. While in the Hole, he kicked down the partition between the two com- 
partments, for which action he was denied lunch and also received extended soli- 
tary time. He continues to be noncooperative during dinner and obviously upset 
that no one has come to visit him. Fortunately, following his meeting after dinner 
with the warden, who sternly rebuked him, we notice that 5704's behavior has 
changed for the better. 


I had hoped Carlo would be able to come from Oakland to work with me on how 
best to prepare for the onslaught of parents. But, as usual, his old car has broken 
down and is being repaired, hopefully in time for his scheduled appearance the 
next day as head of our Parole Board. After a long phone conversation, the game 
plan is set. We will do just what all prisons do when unwelcome visitors descend 
on them, ready to document abuses and confront the system with demands for 
improvement: prison officials cover the bloodstains with doilies, hide the bodies by 
putting troublemakers out of sight, and make the scene pretty. 

Carlo offers sage advice about what I might do in the short time available to 
create the appearance to parents of a well-oiled, benevolent system that is taking 
good care of their children while we are in charge of them. He makes it clear, 
however, that we must convince these middle-class, white parents to believe in 
the good we are doing with the study and, like their sons, make them comply with 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


the demands of the authorities. Carlo laughs as he says, "You white folks sure like 
to conform to the Man, so they know they are doing the right thing, just doing like 
everyone else is doing." 

Turn on Action Central: Prisoners wash the floors and their cells, the Hole 
sign is removed, and a disinfectant with a fresh eucalyptus scent is sprayed all over 
to counter the urine odors. The prisoners are shaved, sponge-washed, and as well 
groomed as can be. Stocking caps and head towels are stashed away. Finally, the 
warden warns everyone that any complaints will result in premature termination 
of the visit. We ask the day shift to do overtime until 9 P.M. both to cope with the 
visitors and also to be ready to assist should the anticipated riot materialize. For 
good measure, I invite our entire group of backup guards to come in as well. 

Next we feed our prisoners their best hot meal, chicken pot pie, with seconds 
and double desserts for the gourmands among them. Music gently infuses the 
Yard as the men eat. The day guards are serving the dinner, while the night 
guards are watching. Without the laughter or snickering that usually accompa- 
nies the meals, the atmosphere is strangely civil and rather ordinary. 

Hellmann is sitting at the head of the table, leaning back but still showing his 
big club, prominently swinging it around: "2093, you never had it so good, did 

2093 replies: "No, I haven't, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"Your mother never gave you seconds, did she?" 

"No, she didn't, Mr. Correctional Officer," Sarge replies obediently. 

"You see how good you've got it here, 2093?" 

"Yes, I do, Mr. Correctional Officer." Hellmann picks some food from Sarge's 
plate and walks away, sneering at him. Bad blood is developing between them. 

Meanwhile, in the corridor outside the main prison door, we are making final 
preparations for the visitors, whose potential for making trouble is a realistic fear. 
Opposite the wall housing the three offices of the guards, the warden, and the su- 
perintendent are a dozen folding chairs for visitors while they await entry. As they 
come down into the basement, full of good humor at what seems a novel, fun ex- 
perience, we deliberately and systematically bring their behavior under situa- 
tional control, according to plan. They have to be taught that they are our guests, 
to whom we were granting the privilege of visiting their sons, brothers, friends, 
and lovers. 

Susie Phillips, our attractive receptionist, welcomes the visitors warmly. She 
is seated behind a large desk with a dozen fragrant red roses at one side. Susie is 
another of my students, a psychology major and also a Stanford Dolly, chosen for 
the cheerleading team for her good looks and gymnastic abilities. She signs each 
visitor in, noting time of arrival, number in party, and name and number of the 
inmate he or she will visit. Susie informs them of the procedure that must be fol- 
lowed tonight. First, each visitor or group sees the warden for a briefing, after 
which they can go into the prison when their relative or friend has finished his 
dinner. On the way out, they are to meet with the superintendent to discuss any 


The Lucifer Effect 

concerns they may have or to share their reactions. They agree to these terms and 
then sit and wait while they listen to music piped in over the intercom. 

Susie apologizes for their having to wait so long, but it seems that the prison- 
ers are taking a longer time than usual tonight because they are enjoying double 
desserts. That does not sit well with some visitors, who have other things to do 
and are getting impatient to see their prisoner and this unusual prison place. 

After conferring with the warden, our receptionist informs the visitors that 
because the prisoners have taken so long to eat, we will have to limit the visiting 
time to ten minutes and admit only two visitors per inmate. The visitors grumble; 
they are upset with their kids and friends for being so inconsiderate. "Why just 
two of us?" they ask. 

Susie replies that the space inside is very tight and there is a fire law about 
maximum occupancy. She adds, as an aside, "Didn't your child or friend tell you 
about the limit of two visitors when he invited you here?" 

"Damn! No, he didn't!" 

"I'm sorry, I guess it must have slipped his mind, but now you will know next 
time you visit." 

The visitors try to make the best of it, chatting among themselves about this 
interesting study. Some complain about the arbitrary rules, but, remarkably, they 
meekly comply with them, as good guests do. We have set the stage for them to 
believe that what they are seeing in this lovely place is standard, and to distrust 
what they might hear from their irresponsible, selfish kids and buddies, who are 
likely to complain. And so they too become unwitting participants in the prison 
drama we are staging. 

Up-Close and Impersonal Visits 

Prisoner 819's parents are the first to enter the Yard, looking around curiously 
when they notice their son seated at the end of the long table in the middle of the 

Father asks the guard, "Can I shake hands with him?" 

"Sure, why not?" he answers, surprised by the request. 

Then his mother also shakes hands with her son! Shakes hands? No auto- 
matic hugging of parents and their child? 

(This kind of awkward exchange involving minimal body contact is what 
happens when one is visiting a real maximum-security prison, but we never made 
that a condition for visiting in our prison. It was our previsit manipulation of the 
visitors' expectations that worked to create confusion about what behaviors were 
appropriate in this strange place. When in doubt, do the minimal amount.) 

Burdan is standing over the prisoner and his parents. Hellmann comes and 
goes at will, invading the privacy of 819's interaction with his folks. He looms 
over 819 as this little familial triad pretends to ignore him and carry on a normal 
conversation. However, 819 knows that he has no chance to say anything bad 
about the prison or he will suffer later. His parents cut their visit short to only five 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


minutes so that 819's brother and sister can share some of the limited visiting. 
They shake hands again as they say their good-byes. 

"Yeah, things are pretty good here," Stew-819 tells his siblings. 

They and other friends of the prisoners act a lot differently from the uptight 
ways of the generally more intense parents. They are more casual, more amused, 
and not as intimidated by the situational constraints as the parents. But guards 
are hovering over everyone. 

819 continues, "We have some pleasant conversations with the correctional 
officers." He describes the "Hole for punishment," and as he points toward it, Bur- 
dan interrupts: "No more talking about the Hole, 819." 

The sister asks about the number on his smock and wants to know what they 
do all day. 819 answers her questions and also describes the impact of the police 
arrest. As soon as he begins to talk about problems he has with the night guard 
shift, Burdan again stops him cold. 

819: "They get us up early in the morning .. . some guards are really good, 
top correctional officers. There's not really any physical abuse; they do have clubs, 

His brother asks him what he would do if he could get out. 819 answers, as a 
good prisoner should, "I can't be out there, I am in this wonderful place." 

Burdan ends the visit after precisely five minutes. Ceros has been sitting at 
the table the entire time, with Varnish standing behind the table. The guards out- 
number the guests! 819's face turns grim as his guests smilingly wave good-bye. 

In come the mom and dad of Prisoner Rich-1037. Burdan immediately sits 
down on the table, glowering over them. (I notice for the first time that Burdan 
looks like a sinister Che Guevara.) 

1037: "Yesterday was kinda strange. Today we washed all the walls in here 
and cleaned our cells in here ... we don't have a sense of time. We haven't been 
out to see the sun." 

His dad asks whether they will stay inside for the entire two weeks. Son is not 
sure but imagines that is the case. This visit seems to be going well, the conversa- 
tion is animated, but Mom shows that she is worried about her son's appearance. 
John Landry saunters over to chat with Burdan as both stand within hearing of 
the visitors' conversation. 1037 does not mention that the guards have taken 
away his bed and so he is sleeping on the floor. 

"Thanks for coming," 1037 says with feeling. "I'm glad I came ... see you 
soon, day after tomorrow, for sure." Mom comes back when 1037 asks her to call 
someone on his behalf. 

"Now, you be good and follow the rules," she urges her son. 

Dad gently ushers her out the door, aware that they might be staying over- 
time in their visit and preventing others from the chance to enjoy visiting privi- 

The guards all perk up when they spy Hubbie-7258's attractive girlfriend 
enter the yard. She is carrying a box of cupcakes, which she wisely shares with 


The Lucifer Effect 

them. The guards eagerly munch them down, making hearty sounds for the bene- 
fit of their captives. 7258 is allowed to eat one cupcake while he and his girl get 
into an animated conversation. They seem to be trying hard to be oblivious of the 
guard's breathing down their necks; all the while Burdan hovers next to them, 
rapping his club on the table in staccato. 

The intercom background music is playing the Rolling Stones' hit "Time Is 
on My Side." This irony is missed as visitors come and go for their all-too-brief en- 

Mother Knows Best, but Dad and I Do Her In 

I thank each of the visitors for taking time from their busy schedules to make this 
visit. Like the warden, I try to be as accommodating and congenial as possible. I 
add that I hope they appreciate what we are to do by studying prison life in as re- 
alistic a fashion as possible within the limits of an experiment. I answer their 
questions about future visits, about sending gift boxes, and counter their personal 
asides urging that I especially look after their son. It is all going like clockwork, 
only a few more visitors to process before I can turn my full attention to dealing 
with the expected danger to our dungeon. However, thinking ahead to the next 
game, I am blindsided by 1037's mother. I am not prepared for the intensity of her 

As soon as she and Dad enter my office, she says in a quavering voice, "I don't 
mean to make trouble, sir, but I am worried about my son. I have never seen him 
looking so tired." 

Red alert! She could make trouble for our prison! And she is right, 10371ooks 
terrible, not only physically exhausted but depressed. He is one of the most 
raggedy-looking kids of the entire lot. 

"What seems to be your son 's problem ? " 

This reaction is immediate, automatic, and like that of every authority con- 
fronted by a challenge to the operating procedures of his system. Like all other 
perpetrators of institutional abuse, I ascribe the problem of her son as disposi- 
tional, as his problem — as something wrong in him. 

She is having none of that diversionary tactic. Mom continues on to say that 
he looks so haggard, has not been sleeping through the night, and — 

"Does he have a sleep disorder?" 

"No, he says that the guards wake them up for something called 'counts.' " 
"Yes, of course, the counts. When each new shift of guards comes on duty, 

they must be sure the men are all present and accounted for, so they have them 

count off their numbers." 

"But in the middle of the night?" 

"Our guards work eight-hour shifts, and since one group of them starts at 
two A.M., they have to wake up the prisoners to be sure they are all there, that 
none have escaped. Doesn't that make sense to you?" 

"Yes, but I'm not sure that — " 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


She is still primed to make trouble, so I move on to another more potent tac- 
tic and engage Dad, who has been silent. Looking him straight in the eye, I put his 
masculine pride at risk. 

"Excuse me, sir. Don't you think that your son can take it?" 

"Sure, he can, he's a real leader, you know, captain of the . . . and. . . " 

Only half listening to the words but understanding their tone and accompa- 
nying gestures, I bond with Dad. "I'm with you. Your son seems to have the right 
stuff to handle this tough situation." Turning back to Mom, I add to reassure her, 
"Rest assured that I will keep an eye on your boy. Thanks for coming; hope to see 
you again soon." 

Dad grips my hand firmly in a manly shake, as I wink at him with the assur- 
ance of the boss who is on his side. We silently acknowledge that "We will tolerate 
'the little lady's' overreaction. " What swine we are, and we do it all on automatic 
masculine pilot! 

As a postscript to this smarmy episode, I received a tender letter from Mrs. Y., 
written that same night. Her observations and intuition about our prison situa- 
tion and her son's condition were completely accurate. 

My husband and I visited our son at the "Stanford County Prison." It 
seemed very real to me. I had not expected anything so severe nor had 
my son when he volunteered I am sure. It gave me a depressed feeling 
when I saw him. He looked very haggard, and his chief complaint 
seemed to be that he had not seen the sun for so long. I asked if he was 
sorry he volunteered and he answered that at first he had been. How- 
ever, he had gone through several different moods and he was more re- 
signed. This will be the hardest money he will ever earn in his life, I am 

Mother of 1037. 

PS: We hope this project is a big success. 

Although I am getting ahead of our story, I should add here that her son 
Rich- 1037, one of the original band of tough rebels, had to be released from our 
prison in the next few days because he was suffering from acute stress reactions 
that were overwhelming him. His mother had sensed that change coming over 


Once the last visitor had left, we could all breath a collective sigh of relief that the 
rioters had not crashed into our party when we were most vulnerable. But the 
threat was not over! Now it was time to swing into counterinsurgency mode. Our 
plan was for some guards to dismantle the jail props, to give the appearance of dis- 
array. Other guards would chain the prisoners' legs together, put bags over their 


The Lucifer Effect 

heads, and escort them in the elevator from our basement to a rarely used, large 
fifth-floor storage room, safe from invasion. When the conspirators charged in to 
liberate the jail, I would be sitting there all alone and would tell them that the ex- 
periment was over. We had ended it early and sent everyone home, so they were 
too late to liberate anything. After they checked out the place and left, we'd bring 
the prisoners back down and have time to redouble the security of our prison. We 
even thought of ways to capture 8612 and imprison him again if he was among 
the conspirators because he had been released under false pretenses. 

Picture this scene. I am sitting alone in a vacant corridor, formerly AKA "the 
Yard." The remnants of the Stanford County Jail are strewn about in disorder, 
prison cell doors off their hinges, signs down, the front door wide open. I am 
psyched to spring what we consider to be our ingenious Machiavellian counter- 
plot. Instead of the rioters, who should appear but one of my psychology 
colleagues — an old friend, a very serious scholar, and my graduate school room- 
mate. Gordon asks what's going on here. He and his wife saw the bunch of prison- 
ers up on the fifth floor and felt sorry for them. They went out and bought the 
prisoners a box of doughnuts because they all looked so miserable. 

I describe the research as simply and quickly as possible, all the while expect- 
ing the sudden intrusion of the invaders. This scholarly intruder then poses a sim- 
ple question: "Say, what's the independent variable in your study?" I should have 
answered that it was the allocation of pretested volunteer subjects to the roles of 
prisoner or guard, which of course had been randomly assigned. Instead, I get 

Here I had an incipient prison riot on my hands. The security of my men and 
the stability of my prison were at stake, and I had to contend with this bleeding- 
heart, liberal, academic, effete professor whose only concern was a ridiculous 
thing like an independent variable! I thought to myself: The next thing he'd be 
asking was whether I had a rehabilitation program! The dummy. I adroitly dismiss 
him and get back to the business of waiting for the attack to unfold. I wait and 

Finally, I realize that it is all a rumor. No substance to it at all. We had spent 
many hours and expended a great deal of energy in planning to foil the rumored 
attack. I had foolishly gone begging to the police for their aid; we had cleaned out 
a filthy storage room upstairs, dismantled our prison, and moved the prisoners up 
and out. More important, we had wasted valuable time. And, our biggest sin, as 
researchers, is that we had not collected any systematic data the whole day. All 
this from someone who has a professional interest in rumor transmission and dis- 
tortion and who regularly does class demonstrations of such phenomena. We 
mortals can be fools, especially when mortal emotions rule over cool reason. 

We resurrected the prison props and then moved the prisoners back down 
from the hot, stuffy windowless storage room where they had been stored for 
three mindless hours. What humiliation I suffered. Craig, Curt, Dave, and I could 

Tuesday's Double Trouble 


barely make eye contact for the rest of that evening. We tacitly agreed to keep it all 
to ourselves and not declare it "Dr. Z's Folly." 

We Played the Fools, but Who Will Pay the Piper? 

Obviously we all reacted with considerable frustration. We also suffered the ten- 
sion of cognitive dissonance for so readily and firmly believing a lie and commit- 
ting ourselves to much needless action without sufficient justification.'" We had 
also experienced "groupthink." Once I, as leader, believed the rumor to be valid, 
everyone else accepted it as true. No one played devil's advocate, a figure that 
every group needs to avoid foolish or even disastrous decisions like this. It was 
reminiscent of President John Kennedy's "disastrous" decision to invade Cuba in 
the Bay of Pigs fiasco. 11 

It should also have been apparent to me that we were losing the scientific de- 
tachment essential for conducting any research with unbiased objectivity. I was 
well on the way to becoming a prison superintendent rather than a principal in- 
vestigator. It should have been obvious that this was so from my earlier encounter 
with Mrs. Y. and her husband, not to mention my tantrums with the police 
sergeant. However, even psychologists are people, subject to the same dynamic 
processes at a personal level that they study at a professional level. 

Our general sense of frustration and embarrassment spread silently across 
the prison Yard. In retrospect, we should have just admitted our mistake and 
moved on, but that is one of the hardest things that anyone can ever do. Just say 
it: "I made a mistake. Sorry." Instead, we unconsciously looked for scapegoats to 
deflect blame from ourselves. And we did not have to look far. All around us were 
prisoners who were going to pay the price for our failure and embarrassment. 


Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 

On this fourth day of the experiment, I am looking forward to a less frenetic time 
than Tuesday's endless troubles had created. Our daily schedule seems filled with 
enough interesting events to contain the volatility that has been bursting the 
seams of our prison. A priest who had been a prison chaplain is coming to visit 
this morning to give me a sense of how realistic our prison simulation is to pro- 
vide a benchmark, the actual prison experience, against which to measure our- 
selves. He is reciprocating an earlier favor I did for him, providing some references 
for a paper he was writing on prisons for a summer school course. Although his 
visit was arranged prior to the start of our study, it will do double duty by also par- 
tially satisfying the Grievance Committee's demand for church services, sort of. 
Afterward there will be the first Parole Board hearing for prisoners requesting to 
be paroled. The Board is going to be headed by our prison consultant on this pro- 
ject, Carlo Prescott. It will be interesting to see how he deals with this total role in- 
version: from a former prisoner who had repeatedly requested parole and been 
rejected, to the head of a parole board. 

The promise of another Visiting Night after dinner should help to contain the 
distress of some prisoners. I also plan to admit a replacement prisoner, in uniform 
number 416, to fill the vacancy of troublesome Doug-8612. A lot of action is on 
today's agenda, but it is all in a good day's work for the superintendent of the 
Stanford County Jail and his staff. 


Father McDermott is a big man, about six feet, two inches tall. He is slim and trim; 
looks as if he does regular gym time. His receding hairline gives his face more ter- 
ritory to show off his big smile, finely crafted nose, and ruddy complexion. He 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


stands straight, sits erect, and has a good sense of humor. McDermott is an Irish 
Catholic priest in his late forties who has had experience as a pastoral counselor 
in an East Coast prison. 1 With his starched collar and neatly pressed black suit, he 
is the movie version of the jovial yet firm parish priest. I am amazed at the fluidity 
with which he slips into and out of his priesdy role. Now he is the serious scholar, 
now the concerned priest, now someone making a professional contact, but al- 
ways he returns to his leading role as "the Priest-Man." 

In the Superintendent's Office, we go over the long list of references with 
annotations that I have prepared for him to help on a report he is doing on inter- 
personal violence. He is obviously impressed that I'm taking so much time with 
him and pleased by the reference list, so he asks, "What can I do to help you?" 

I respond, "All I would like is for you to talk with as many of the student sub- 
jects in our experiment as possible in the time you have available and then, on the 
basis of what they tell you and what you observe, give me your honest evaluation 
of how realistic their prison experience seems to you." 

"Sure, pleased to reciprocate. I will use as my comparison base the prisoners 
I worked with in a Washington, D.C, correctional facility I was assigned to for 
several years," the father tells me. 

"Great — I very much appreciate your assistance." 

Now it's time for me to switch hats: "The warden has invited any inmates 
who want to talk with a minister to register for that privilege. A number of them 
do want to talk with you, and some want to request that religious services be held 
here this weekend. Only one prisoner, number 8 19, is feeling sick and wants more 
sleep so he won't be talking with you." 

"Okay, let's go, it should be interesting," says Father McDermott. 

The warden has set a pair of chairs against the wall between Cells 2 and 3 
for the priest and each inmate who comes to him. I bring over another for me to 
sit on next to the priest. Jaffe is at my side, looking very serious as he personally es- 
corts each inmate from his cell to the interview. Jaffe is obviously relishing the 
mock reality of this scenario with a real priest enacting his pastoral role with our 
mock prisoners. He really gets into it. I am more concerned about the prisoners' 
likely complaints and what the good father is likely to do to correct them. I ask 
Jaffe to be sure that Curt Banks is getting this on video as close up as possible, but 
the low level quality of our video camera doesn't allow close-ups as tight as I 
would like. 

Most interactions take the same form. 

The priest introduces himself, "Father McDermott, Son, and you?" 

The prisoner responds, "I'm 5486, sir," or "I'm 7258, father." Only a few re- 
spond with their names; the rest just give him their numbers instead of their 
names. Curiously, the priest does not flinch; I am very surprised. Socialization into 
the prisoner role is clearly taking effect. 

"What are you charged with?" 


The Lucifer Effect 

"Burglary" or "armed robbery" or "breaking and entering" or "459 Code 
violation" are the usual replies. 

Some add, "But I am innocent" or "I was charged with .. . but did not do it, 


The priest then says, "Good to see you, young man" or says the prisoner's first 
name. He inquires about where he lives, about his family, about visitors. 

"Why is the chain on your leg?" asks Father McDermott of one prisoner. 

"I think it's to prevent us from moving around that freely" is the response. 

Some he asks about how they are being treated, how they are feeling, 
whether they have any complaints, and whether he can offer any assistance. 
Then our priest goes beyond any of my expectations with basic questions about 
the legal aspect of their confinement. 

'Anybody post bond for you?" He asks one of them. Alternatively, of 4325 he 
seriously inquires, "How does your lawyer feel about your case?" 

For variety's sake, he asks others, "Have you told your family about the 
charges against you?" or "Have you seen the public defender yet?" 

Suddenly, we are all in the "Twilight Zone." Father McDermott himself has 
slipped deeply into the role of prison chaplain. Apparently, our mock prison has 
created a very realistic situation that has drawn the priest in, just as it has the 
prisoners and the guards and me. 

"We weren't allowed to make a phone call, and we have not yet been brought 
to trial; no trial date has even been mentioned, sir." 

The priest says, "Well, someone has got to take your case. I mean, you can 
fight it from here, but what good does it do to simply write the criminal court chief 
justice? It is going to be very slow to get a response. You want your family making 
this contact with a lawyer because you don't have much pull at all in your current 

Prisoner Rich- 1037 says that he plans to "be my own lawyer, because I will 
be a lawyer soon after I finish law school in a few years." 

The priest smiles sardonically. "It is my general observation that a lawyer 
who tries his own case tends to be too emotionally involved. You know the old say- 
ing Anyone who represents himself has a fool for an attorney' " 

I tell 1037 that his time is up and motion to the warden to replace him with 
the next prisoner. 

The priest is taken aback by Sarge's excessive formality and his refusal to con- 
sider getting legal counsel because "it is only fair that I serve the time I have com- 
ing for the crime I am alleged to have committed. " "Are there others like him, or is 
he a special case?" McDermott asks. "He's our special case, Father." It is hard to 
like Sarge; even the priest treats him in a patronizing manner. 

Prisoner Paul-5704 slickly exploits this opportunity to bum a cigarette from 
the priest, knowing that he is not allowed to smoke. As he lights up and takes a 
deep puff, he gives me a shit-eating grin and a big "victory" sign — his nonverbal 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


"Gotcha." The head of the Grievance Committee is making the most of this pleas- 
ant respite from the prison routine. I expect him next to ask for another smoke for 
later. However, I notice that Guard Arnett is duly taking note of this affront and 
know that he will make the prisoner pay dearly for the contraband cigarette and 
his wise-aleck smirk. 

As the interviews proceed one after another in small talk, complaints about 
mistreatment, and violations of the rules, I am becoming evermore agitated and 

Only Prisoner 5486 refuses to be sucked into this scenario, namely to play- 
acting that this is a real prison and he is a real prisoner who needs a real priest's 
help to get his freedom back. He is the only one who describes the situation as an 
"experiment" — one that is getting out of control. Jerry-5486 is the most level- 
headed guy in the mix but the least demonstrative. I realize that he has been a 
shadow until now, not usually called upon by the guards on any shift for special 
action and rarely even noticeable in any count, the rebellion or disturbances so 
far. I will keep my eye on him from now on. 

The next prisoner, by contrast, is eager to have the priest help get him legal 
assistance. However, he is stunned by the awareness that it costs big money. 
"Well, suppose your attorney wanted five hundred dollars as a retainer right now. 
Do you have five hundred dollars on you? If not, your parents are going to have to 
come up with that and more — right away." 

Prisoner Hubbie-7258 accepts the priest's offer of assistance and gives him 
his mother's name and phone number so that she can arrange for legal help. He 
says that his cousin is in the local public defender's office and he might be avail- 
able to bail him out. Father McDermott promises to follow through on this re- 
quest, and Hubbie lights up as if he were Santa Claus giving him a new car. 

The whole production is becoming ever more weird. 

Before leaving, and after having talked in earnest with seven of our inmates, 
the priest, in best priestly fashion, asks about the one reluctant prisoner, who 
might need his help. I ask Guard Arnett to encourage 819 to take a few minutes 
to talk with the priest; it might help him feel better. 

During a lull, while Prisoner 819 is being prepared for his meeting with the 
pastoral counselor, Father McDermott confides in me, "They are all the naive type 
of prisoner. They don't know anything about prison or what a prison's for. It's 
typical of the educated people that I see. These are the people you want to try to 
change the prison system — tomorrow's leaders and today's voters — and they are 
the ones who are going to shape community education. They just don't know 
enough about what prisons are and what they can do to a person. But what you 
are doing here is good, it'll teach them." 

I take this as a vote of confidence, register his homily for the day, but am no 
less confused. 

Prisoner Stew-819 is looking terrible, to say the least: dark circles under his 


The Lucifer Effect 

eyes, uncombed hair going in every direction but down. This morning, Stew-819 
did a bad thing: In a rage, he messed up his cell, tearing open the pillow and 
throwing the feathers everywhere. He was put in the Hole and his cellmates had 
to clean up the mess. He has been depressed following his parents' visit last night. 
One of his buddies told a guard that while his parents thought that they had had 
a great talk with him, he felt otherwise. They had not listened to his complaints, 
and they had not cared about his condition, which he had tried to explain to 
them, but they had just talked on and on about some damn play they had just 

Priest: "I wonder if you discussed the idea that your family might get a lawyer 
for you." 

819: "They knew I was a prisoner. I told them what I was doing here, about 
the numbers, the regulations, the hassles." 
Priest: "How do you feel now?" 
819: "I have a bad headache; I need a doctor." 

I intervene, trying to discover the basis of his headache. I ask him whether it 
was a typical migraine; or maybe had been caused by exhaustion, hunger, heat, 
stress, constipation, or vision problems. 

819: "I just feel kind of drained. Nervous." 

Then he breaks down and starts to cry. Big tears, big heaving sighs. The priest 
calmly gives him his handkerchief to wipe the tears away. 

"Now there, it can't be all that bad. How long have you been in this place?" 
"Only three days!" 

"You're going to have to be less emotional." 

I try to comfort 819, arranging for him to take a time-out in the restroom off 
the Yard, actually behind the partition where we are doing our tape recording. I 
tell him that he can rest comfortably and I will get him some good food. Then we'll 
see if the headache goes away by this afternoon. If not, I will take him to Student 
Health for a checkup. I end by getting him to promise not to try to escape, because 
I am taking him to a minimum-security area. I ask him whether he is really feel- 
ing so bad that he should be released now. He insists that he wants to continue 
and agrees not to try any funny business. 

Priest to 819: "Maybe you are responding to the smell of this place. The air 
here is oppressive. There's an unpleasant smell, it takes time to get used to it. Nev- 
ertheless, it's there, it has sort of a toxic quality, maybe that's too strong, but the 
stench brings home the reality of prison. [McDermott is smelling the urine and 
feces odor now clinging to our prison, to which we are habituated and don't no- 
tice until it is called to our attention.] You have to get your balance, plenty of pris- 
oners learn to handle it." 

As we walk off the Yard, down the hall to my office, the priest tells me that the 
study is working like a real prison and specifically that he is seeing the typical 
"first-offender syndrome" — one filled with confusion, irritability, rage, depres- 
sion, and overemotionalization. He assures me that such reactions change after a 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


week or so because it does not aid a prisoner's survival to be so effeminate. He 
adds that he thinks this situation is more real for 819 than the boy is willing to 
admit. We agree that he needs counseling. I note that although 819's lips were 
trembling, hands shaking, and eyes tearing, he still could not admit that he can- 
not make it here, that he wants out. I think that he cannot accept the idea that he 
is chickening out, that his masculinity might be threatened, so he wants us — 
wants me — to insist that he leave as a way of saving face. "Maybe so. That is an in- 
teresting possibility," Father McDermott adds, reflecting on all that has just 

While I bid him adieu, I add in passing that the good father is not really going 
to call the parents, right? "Of course I am, I must. It is my duty." 

"Sure, how stupid of me, your duty, that's right." (Just what I need is parents 
and lawyers to deal with because a priest made a promise he is obligated to keep 
in his role as a real priest even though he knows this is not a real prison and they 
are not real prisoners, but what the hell, the play must go on.) 

The priest's visit highlights the growing confusion here between reality and 
illusion, between role-playing and self-determined identity. He is a real priest in 
the real world with personal experience in real prisons, and although he is fully 
aware that ours is a mock prison, he so fully and deeply enacts his assumed role 
that he helps to transform our show into reality. He sits erect, holds his hands in a 
particular way, gestures just so, leans forward to give personal advice, nods know- 
ingly, pats shoulders, scowls at prisoners' foolishness, and talks in tones and ca- 
dences that take me back to my childhood in Sunday school at Saint Anselm's 
Catholic Church. He could not present a more perfect image of a priest had he 
been sent from Central Casting. While he was doing his priestly thing, it was as 
though we were on a bizarre movie set, and I admired how well this actor per- 
formed his role. If anything, the priestly visit further transformed our simulated 
experiment into an ever-more-realistic prison. This was especially so for those 
prisoners who had been able to sustain the realization that this is all "just an ex- 
periment." The priest has made his message a new medium. Is our scenario now 
in the hands of Franz Kafka or Luigi Pirandello? 

Just then, an eruption booms from the Yard. The prisoners are shouting. 
They are chanting loudly something about Prisoner 819. 

Arnett: "Prisoner 819 did abad thing. Say it ten times, loudly." 

Prisoners: "Prisoner 819 did a bad thing" (Over and over many times.) 

Arnett: "What is happening to Prisoner 819 for doing the bad thing he did, 
Prisoner 3401?" 

3401: "Prisoner819 is being punished." 

Arnett: "What is happening to Prisoner 819, 1037?" 

1037: "I'm not sure, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Arnett: "He's being punished. From the top, 3401 . " 

3401 repeats the mantra, as 1037 adds even louder, "Prisoner 819 is being 
punished, Mr. Correctional Officer." 


The Lucifer Effect 

1037 and each of the other prisoners is asked the same question in turn, and 
each responds identically, individually and then collectively. 

Arnett: "Let's hear it five times to make sure you remember it. Because of the 
bad things that Prisoner 819 did, your cells are a mess. Let's hear it ten times." 

"Because of what Prisoner 819 did, my cell is a mess." 

The prisoners chant the phrase repeatedly, but 1037, the one who plans to be 
a lawyer, is no longer joining in. Guard John Landry gestures menacingly at him 
with his billy club to get with the program. Arnett stops the chant to ask what is 
wrong; Landry informs him of 1037's disobedience. 

Prisoner 1037 challenges Arnett: "I have a question, Mr. Correctional Offi- 
cer. Are we supposed to never tell lies?" 

Arnett, in his most formal, unflustered, totally authentic style, replies, 
"We're not interested in your questions now. The task has been assigned, now 
let's hear it. 'Because of what Prisoner 819 did, my cell is a mess' ten times." 

Prisoners chant the phrase but lose track and do so eleven times. 

Arnett: "How many times were you told to do that, Prisoner 3401?" 

3401: "Ten times." 

Arnett: "How many times did you do it, Mr. 3401."? 
3401 : "Ten times, Mr. Correctional Officer" 

Arnett: "Wrong, you all did it eleven times. Do it over again, do it properly, do 
it ten times, as I have commanded you to do: 'Because of what Prisoner 819 did, my 
cell is a mess' — ten times." 

They shout it out in precision exactly ten more times. 

Arnett: "Everyone assume the position." 

Without a moment's hesitation, everyone falls to the ground for push-ups. 
"Down, up, down, up. 5486, these aren't belly rolls, they are push-ups, keep that 
back straight. Down, up, down, up, down, and stay down. Roll over on your backs 
for leg lifts." 

Arnett: "Six inches is the important feature of this, men. Everybody goes six 
inches, and everybody's leg will stay there until everybody's leg is six inches." 

Guard J. Landry measures to determine whether each prisoner's legs are 
lifted exactly six inches above the ground. 

Arnett: "All together, ten times, 'I will not make the mistake that 819 did, Mr. 
Correctional Officer.' " 

Arnett: "Now at the absolute top of your lungs, 'I will not make any mistakes, 
Mr. Correctional Officer!' " 

They all obey in perfect unison. Prisoner 1037 refuses to shout but goes 
along with the chanting nevertheless, while Sarge is delighting in the chance to 
shout out his obedience to this authority. Then all sing out very politely in re- 
sponse to the officer's final command: "Thank you very much for this nice count, 
Mr. Correctional Officer." 

The precise unison of the prisoners would be the envy of any choirmaster or 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


Hitler Youth rally leader, I think to myself. Moreover, how far have they — or we — 
come since Sunday's giggling counts and the playful antics of the new prisoners? 


When I realize that 819 might be hearing all of this in the R&R Room on the other 
side of thin partition, I rush to check on him. What I find is 819 hunched over 
into a quivering mass, hysterical. I put my arms around him trying to comfort 
him, assuring him that he will be all right once he has left and gone home. To my 
surprise, he refuses to leave with me to see a doctor and then go home. "No, I can't 
leave. I have to go back in there," he insists through his tears. He can't leave 
knowing that the other prisoners have labeled him a "bad prisoner," that messing 
up his cell has made all this harassment come down upon them. Even though he 
is clearly distressed, he is willing to go back into that prison to prove that he is not 
really a bad guy. 

"Listen carefully to me, now, you're not 819. You are Stewart, and my name 
is Dr. Zimbardo. I am a psychologist, not a prison superintendent, and this is not a 
real prison. This is just an experiment, and those guys in there are just students, 
like you. So it's time to go home, Stewart. Come with me now. Let's go." 

He stops sobbing, wipes away the tears, straightens up, and looks into my 
eyes. He looks like a small child awakening from a nightmare, assured by his par- 
ent that it is not a real monster and that everything will be fine once he fully ac- 
cepts that truth. "Ok Stew, let's go." (I have broken through his illusion, but mine 
is still clinging on.) 


The Lucifer Effect 

On the way to getting his civilian clothes and mustering Stew out of service, 
I recall that his day started out with a lot of trouble that set the stage for this emo- 
tional breakdown. 

819 Messes Up Early On 

The Warden's Log reports that 819 refused to get up at the 6:10 A.M. wake-up. He 
was put in the Hole and later given only half the time in the bathroom that the 
others got. All, including 819, were present for the fifteen-minute number count 
at 7:30, reciting it forward and in reverse repeatedly. However, during the exercise 
period, 819 refused. A guard came up with the social punishment of forcing the 
other prisoners to stand with their arms outstretched until 819 yielded. 

819 would not yield, and the other prisoners' strength gave out as their arms 
dropped to their sides. 8 1 9 was put back in the Hole, where he ate his breakfast in 
the dark but refused to eat his egg. He was released for work duty to clean out the 
toilets with his bare hands and move boxes back and forth endlessly and mind- 
lessly along with all the prisoners. When he returned to his cell, 819 locked him- 
self in. He refused to clean off the stickers from a blanket thrown into his cell. His 
cellmates, 4325 and the replacement, 8612, were forced to do extra work until he 
complied. They moved boxes back and forth from one closet to the other. He did 
not relent but demanded to see a doctor. They were getting angry at his obsti- 
nence, for which they were suffering. 

Ceros's Guard Shift Report notes, "A prisoner locked himself in his cell. We 
got our clubs and proceeded to get him out. He wouldn't come out. We made 
everyone stand up against the wall with their arms straight out. He lay back in his 
cell and laughed. I didn't think he would do it. We gave up. The rest of the prison- 
ers hated us. Ijust smiled and did my job." 

Guard Varnish in his report notes the psychological importance of this pris- 
oner's behavior: "819's apparent indifference to the troubles of his fellow inmates 
upsets them." Varnish goes on to complain in his report about the lack of clear 
guidelines for what he could do to the prisoners. "I felt I was uncertain as to the 
amount of force we could in fact use, and this bothered me as I felt the limits on 
this case were not clearly defined." 2 

Vandy reports a different reaction: "I continued to become more involved 
than on the preceding day. I enjoyed harassing the prisoners at 2:30 A.M. It pleased 
my sadistic senses to cause bitterness between us." That is a rather remarkable 
statement, one that I am sure he would never have made four days earlier. 

Stern Guard Arnett adds in his report: "The only time I felt I could not properly 
play my role was with 819 and 1037, when they were in such obvious difficulty on 
some occasions. At these times, I was not as tough as I should have been. "' 

"Basically the really oppressive thing about the prison experience is being to- 
tally at the mercy of other people who are trying to make things as difficult and 
unenjoyable for you as possible," Stew-819 later told me. "I simply can't stand 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


being abused by other people. I developed a strong resentment of the fascist 
guards and a strong liking for the compassionate ones. I was pleased with the re- 
belliousness of some prisoners and angered at the complacency and total obedi- 
ence of others. My sense of time was also affected, since each day's torturous 
moment seemed quite a bit longer than it would have been if one were enjoying 
oneself. The worst thing about this experience was the total depression that set in 
from being constantly hassled and the fact that there was no way of getting out. 
The best thing was finally being set free." 4 

Betrayal by Our Very Own Spy 

Recall that David, who took over 8612's uniform, was brought into the prison as 
our spy. Unfortunately, for us, he was not providing any useful information be- 
cause he had become sympathetic to the prisoners' cause and had transferred his 
allegiance to them in almost a heartbeat. I released him that morning in order to 
debrief him and get his assessment of what was going on. In his interview with 
the warden and me, our failed informer made clear his disdain for the guards and 
his frustration at not being able to mobilize the prisoners to disobey orders. He 
said that that morning, one guard had told him to fill the coffeepot with hot water 
in the bathroom but then another guard had dumped it out and made him fill it 
with cold water, admonishing him for disobeying orders. He hated this "chicken- 
shit" hazing. He also told us of the time distortion that expanded and contracted 
events and had confused him when he was awakened several times during the 
night for interminable counts. He reported a mental dullness like a fog surround- 
ing everything. 

"The arbitrariness and idiot work by the guards grates on you." In his new 
role as informer-turned-prisoner-revolutionary, he told us of his plan to energize 
his mates for action. "Today, I decided to be a shitty prisoner. I wanted to get some 
sort of spirit of resistance going among the prisoners. The punishment of making 
others do more if any prisoner refuses to work or to come out of his cell works 
only if the others are willing to do more. I tried to make them resist. But everyone 
was willing to do what they were told, even to the humiliating task of transferring 
the contents of one closet to the other and back again, or cleaning the toilet bowls 
with our bare hands." 

David reported that nobody is angry with me or the warden, who is mostly 
just a crackling voice over the loudspeaker, but he and the others are pissed at the 
guards. He told one of them this morning, "Mr. Correctional Officer, do you think 
that when this job ends you're going to have enough time to become a human 
being again?" For which of course he got Hole time. 

He was upset that he failed in this attempt to get the other prisoners to refuse 
to keep their arms lifted in collective punishment for 819's mess-up. Their arms 
dropped down eventually, but from fatigue, not disobedience. David's frustrations 
at not being an effective labor organizer are evident in his report to us: 


The Lucifer Effect 

Communication lines are severely limited when everybody's screaming so 
loudly, you can't stop it. But during silent periods I try to talk with my cell- 
mates, but 819 is always in the Hole, and the other guy, 4325 [Jim] is a 
drag and not much to talk to. And you know at meals, when it would be a 
good time to talk to all the guys about not giving in so easily to the guards, 
you can't talk. It's kind of like the energy stays within you and doesn't 
really ever get organized into action. I got depressed when one guy tells 
me, "I want to get paroled. Don't bug me. If you want to stick out your 
neck, that's cool, but I'm not gonna!'" 

David did not give us "actionable intelligence," such as about escape plans or 
where the keys to the handcuffs were hidden. His personal reflections did, how- 
ever, make evident that a powerful force was operating on the minds of the pris- 
oners to suppress group action against their oppression. They had begun to focus 
inward to selfishly consider what they had to do singly to survive and maybe score 
an early parole. 


To replenish our depleted rank of prisoners, we admit a replacement, new pris- 
oner number 416. This latecomer will soon play a remarkable role. We see him 
first on the video in the corner of the Yard. He has come into the prison wearing a 
shopping bag over his head; he is carefully stripped naked by Guard Arnett. He is 
really skinny, "all skin and bones," as my mother used to say: you could count 
each of his rib bones from a distance of ten feet. He is a rather pathetic sight, and 
he has not yet begun to realize what is in store for him. 

Arnett sprays 416 slowly and systematically all over his body with the al- 
leged delousing powder. On Day 1, this task was rushed because the guards had to 
process so many incoming prisoners. Now, given ample time, Arnett turns it into 
a special cleansing ritual. He pulls the number 416 smock over his head, chains 
his ankle, and tops him off with a new stocking cap. Voila! The new prisoner is 
ready for action. Unlike the others, who were gradually acclimated to the daily es- 
calations of arbitrary and hostile guard behavior, 416 is being thrust into this 
crucible of madness headfirst with no time for adjustment. 

I was stunned by the arrest procedure. As a standby, I was never booked by 
the police, as the others had been. Called by a secretary to get my papers 
and report to the lobby of the Psychology Department before noon. I was 
really pleased to get the job, glad I had gotten a chance to do it. [Remem- 
ber, these volunteers were being paid for two weeks on the job.] As I was 
waiting, a guard came out and after I told him my name, he immediately 
handcuffed me, put a paper bag over my head, brought me down a flight of 
stairs and I had to stand for a while with my hands on the wall, spread ea- 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


gled. I had no idea what was going on. I think that I accepted being miser- 
able, but it was much worse than I had expected. I didn't expect to come in 
and right off be stripped and deloused and struck on my legs with a baton. 
I decided that I would stay as mentally removed from the guards as I could 
while watching the other prisoners playing these social games. I said to 
myself, that I will do my best to keep out of that, but as time went on, I for- 
got my reasons for being here. I'd come in with reasons, like it'll make me 
money. Suddenly, 416 has been transformed into a prisoner — and one 
who is extremely dazed and upset.' 

"Amazing Grace": In the Key of Irony 

The new prisoner arrives just in time to hear Arnett dictating a letter that the pris- 
oners must send to their prospective visitors for the next Visiting Night. As the 
guard reads out the text, they write it out on the prison stationery provided. Then 
he asks each of them to repeat parts of it aloud. One formula letter as dictated says: 

Dear Mother, 

I've been having a marvelous time. The food is great and there's always 
lots of fun and games. The officers have treated me very well. They are all 
swell guys. You would like them, Mother. No need to visit, it's seventh 
heaven. And put the name there that your mother gave you, whatever 
that may be. 

Yours truly, 
Your Loving Son 

Guard Markus collects them all for later mailing — after, of course, first 
screening them for forbidden information or incendiary complaints. The prison- 
ers put up with such nonsense because visits have become so important to 
them — after a relative few days without seeing family and friends. That link to the 
other world needs to be maintained as an assurance that this basement world is 
not all there is. 

New trouble starts to percolate around a problem with the door lock in Cell 1 . 
5704, the wise guy who shamelessly bummed a cigarette from the priest earlier 
today, keeps opening the door to show that he is free to go in and out at any time. 
In silky smooth style, Guard Arnett gets a rope and ties it around the bars and 
across the wall to connect it to Cell 2. He does so methodically, as if it were for a 
Boy Scout merit badge for knot tying. He whistles the "Blue Danube Waltz" as he 
rings the rope around the bars of one cell and back to the other cell to prevent 
either from being opened from inside. Arnett whistles well. John Landry comes 
into view, using his billy club to twist the rope taut. The two guards smile approv- 


The Lucifer Effect 

ingly at each other for a job well done. Now no one can go in to or out of those two 
cells until the guards have figured out how to fix that defective lock, which 5 704 
probably broke. 

"No cigarettes for you, 5704, as long as the cell door is blockaded. You're 
going to be in solitary when you get out. " 

Rich-1037 yells out threateningly from Cell 2, "I have a weapon!" 

Arnett challenges him: "You don't have a weapon. We can get that cell open 
anytime we want." 

Someone calls out, "He has a needle!" 

"That's not a very good thing for him to have. We will have to confiscate it 
and duly punish him." Landry pounds his club hard on the doors of all the cells 
to remind them of who is in charge. Arnett adds his slam on the bars of Cell 2, al- 
most smashing the hands of one of the prisoners, who pulls back just in time. 
Then, as in the rebellion in the morning of Day 2, John Landry begins to spray the 
fire extinguisher with its skin-chilling carbon dioxide exhaust into Cell 2. Landry 
and Markus push their clubs into the cell bars to keep the inmates away from the 
barred opening, but a prisoner in Cell 2 steals one of their clubs away. They all 
start mocking the guards. New bedlam is about to break out now that the prison- 
ers have a weapon. 

Arnett maintains his cool demeanor, and, after some discussion, the guards 
arrange to take a lock from a vacant office and install it on Cell 1 . "Actually, men, 
it's a one-way street in the last analysis, it's just a matter of how long it takes," he 
tells them patiently. 

Eventually the guards triumph again; forcing their way into both cells and 
hauling big bad boy 5704 back into solitary. This time they are taking no 
chances. They tie him up hands and feet, using their cord taken off the cell doors, 
before dumping him into the Hole. 

This uprising forfeits the privilege of lunch for all the prisoners. Too bad for 
416, the new guy. He has had only a cup of coffee and a cookie for breakfast. He 
is hungry and has done nothing but look on in amazement as these bizarre events 
unfold around him. Would be nice to eat something warm, he thinks. Instead of 
lunch, the prisoners are all lined up against the wall. Paul-5704 is hauled out of 
solitary but remains bound up and helpless lying on the floor of the Yard. He is on 
display as a lesson against further thoughts of rebellion. 

Guard Markus orders everyone to sing while doing jumping jacks, to the tune 
of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." 

"Since you guys are in such good voice, we're going to sing Amazing Grace,' " 
Arnett tells them. "We're just going to do one verse, I'm not going to strain God's 
credulity." As the rest of the prisoners assume the position on the floor for push- 
ups, 416 is singled out for his first public notice: "Here you go. You better memo- 
rize this, 416. Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, to save a wretch like me, I 
once was blind, but now I see, in the first hour since God, I'm free.' " 

Arnett resists the correction about "in the first hour since God" that Paul- 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


5704 offers him from the floor. "That's the way you're going to do it. That line 
might not be exacdy it, but that's the way you're going to do it." Then he inex- 
plicably changes the last line to "since the first hour I've seen God I'm free." 

Arnett, who obviously knows he is a good whistler, then whistles 'Amazing 
Grace" once through, and whistles it all again in perfect tune. Prisoners applaud 
him in a nice, spontaneous gesture of appreciation for his talent, despite despising 
him for his attitude and assorted cruelty against them. As Guards Landry and 
Markus lounge back on the table, the prisoners sing the song, but clearly they are 
out of key and out of unison. Arnett is upset: "Did we scrape these people up from 
the Sixth Street ghetto in San Francisco, or something? Let's hear it again." Trou- 
blemaker 5704 makes another attempt to correct the inaccurate wording, but 
Arnett uses the opportunity to make his point loud and clear: "Of course there is 
a discrepancy here; you're to do the prison version of Amazing Grace. ' It does not 
matter if it's wrong, because the guards are always right. 416, you stand up, 
everybody else in the push-up position. 416, while they do push-ups, you sing 
Amazing Grace,' as I have dictated it." 

Only a few hours after being imprisoned, 4 16 is moved to center stage by Ar- 
nett, who isolates him from the other prisoners and forces him to perform a mind- 
less task. The video captures this saddest of moments as the scrawny new 
prisoner sings in a high-pitched voice this song of spiritual freedom. His slackened 
shoulders and downward glance make evident his extreme discomfort, which 
worsens when he is corrected and has to repeat the song while the others are 
forced to keep pushing up and down and up and . . . the irony of being ordered to 
sing a song of freedom in this oppressive atmosphere where his song provides the 
cadence for mindless push-ups is not lost on 416. He vows not to be crushed by 
Arnett or any other guard. 

It is not clear why Arnett has singled him out this way. Maybe it's just a tac- 
tic to get him into the pressure cooker faster. Alternatively, maybe there is some- 
thing about 416's shabby and scrawny appearance that is offensive to a guard 
who tends to be meticulous and always well turned out. 

"Now that you are in a singing mood, 416 will sing 'Row, Row, Row Your 
Boat' while everyone is on their back with legs up in the air. I want it loud enough 
so that 5704's loved one, Richard Nixon, can hear it, wherever the fuck he is. Legs 
up. Up! Up! Let's hear it a few more times, especially emphasizing that last line, 
Life is but a dream." 

Prisoner Hubbie-7258, still hanging on to the ironic moment, asks if they 
can sing "Prison life is but a dream." The prisoners are literally screaming the 
song at this point, their chests heaving with each word. Life here is ever stranger. 

Return of the TV Cameraman 

Sometime this afternoon we had a visit from the TV cameraman from local San 
Francisco station KRON. He was sent down to do a brief follow-up on his Sunday 
shoot, which had sparked some interest at the station. I restricted him to shooting 


The Lucifer Effect 

from behind our observation window and to talking only with the warden and me 
about the progress of the study. I did not want to have external interference upset- 
ting the dynamic that was emerging between the prisoners and the guards. I 
wasn't able to see the TV coverage he made that night, because we were all en- 
meshed in too many more urgent matters that took our full attention — and then 


"Time to get ready for Sunday services," Arnett tells the prisoners, even though it 
is only Wednesday. "Everyone get in a circle and hold hands, like a religious cere- 
mony. Say, 'Hi, 416, I'm your buddy, 5704.' Then each of you welcome your new 

They continue these greetings around the circle in what amounts to a very 
tender ceremony. I am surprised that Arnett thought to include this sensitive 
communal activity. But then he goes and spoils it by having everyone skip around 
in a circle singing "Ring Around the Rosy," with 416 standing alone in the center 
of the sorry circle. 

Before leaving for the day, Arnett throws in one more count, in which John 
Landry takes over dictating how it will be sung. It is 416's first count, and he 
shakes his head in disbelief at how the others follow every command in haunting 
unison. Arnett continues his dehumanizing treatment until the very last minute 
of his shift time. 

"I've had enough of this, go back to your cage. Clean up your cells so when 
visitors come, they won't be nauseated by the sight of it." He leaves whistling 
Amazing Grace.' As a parting shot, he adds, "See ya, folks. See ya tomorrow, my 

Landry adds his two cents: "I want you to thank your correctional officers for 
the time they spent with you today." They give a reluctant "Thank you, Mr. Cor- 
rectional Officers." John Landry is not buying that "shitty thank-you" and makes 
them shout it louder as he strides off the Yard along with Markus and Arnett. As 
they exit stage right, in comes the night shift, featuring John Wayne and his eager 

The new prisoner, 416, later told us about his fear of the guards: 

I was terrified by each new shift of guards. I knew by the first evening that 
I had done something foolish to volunteer for this study. My first priority 
was to get out as soon as possible. That is what you did in prison if you had 
the vaguest possibility of it. And this was a real prison, run by psycholo- 
gists and not by the State. I met this challenge by going on a hunger strike, 
to refuse to eat anything, to get sick and they would have to release 416. 
That is the plan that I stuck to no matter what the consequences. 8 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


At dinner, although he was now very hungry, 416 followed his plan to refuse 
to eat anything. 

Hellmann: "Hey guys, we got nice hot sausages for your dinner tonight." 
416 (glibly): "Not for me, sir, I refuse to eat any food you give me." 
Hellmann: "That is a rule violation, for which you will be punished accord- 

416: "It does not matter, I will not eat your sausages." 

As punishment, Hellmann puts 416 into the Hole, for his first of many visits 
there, and Burdan insists that he hold each of the sausages in his hands. After the 
others finish dinner, 416 has to sit and stare at his food, a plate of two cold 
sausages. This unexpected act of rebellion infuriates the night shift guards and es- 
pecially Hellmann, who had thought that tonight everything was under strict 
control and would be flowing smoothly after last night's problems were resolved. 
Now this "pain in the ass" is making trouble and might incite the others to rebel, 
just when it seemed as if they were totally dominated and submissive. 

Hellmann: "You don't want to eat two stinking sausages? You want me to 
take those sausages and cram them up your ass? Is that what you want? Do you 
want me to take that and cram that up your ass?" 

416 remains stoic, staring down expressionless at the plate of sausages. 

Hellmann realizes that it is time to put the divide-and-conquer tactic into op- 
eration: "Now, listen here, 416, if you do not eat your sausages, that is an act of 
prisoner insubordination that will result in all prisoners being deprived of visitors 
tonight. Hear that?" 

"I am sorry to hear that. My personal actions should have no consequences 
for the others," 416 replies in an imperious manner. 

"They are not personal but prisoner reactions, and I will determine the con- 
sequences!" shouts Hellmann. 

Burdan brings out Hubbie-7258 to persuade 416 to eat his sausages. 7258 
says, "Just eat your sausages, okay?" Burdan adds, "Tell him why." 7258 contin- 
ues, pleading that the prisoners won't get visiting hours if he doesn't eat the 

"Don't you care about that? Just 'cause you don't got no friends. . . . Eat for 
the prisoners, not for the guards, okay?" Burdan throws in this uppercut, pitting 
416 against the other prisoners. 

Prisoner Hubbie-7258 continues talking to 416, gently trying to get him to 
eat the sausages because his girlfriend, Mary Ann, is about to visit him soon, and 
he would hate to be denied that privilege because of a few lousy sausages. Burdan 
continues to assume more of Hellmann's demeanor in his domineering style and 

"416, what's your problem? Answer me, boy! Yeah, what's your problem?" 
416 begins to explain that he is on a hunger strike to protest the abusive 
treatment and contract violations. 


Tlie Lucifer Effect 

"What the hell has that got to do with the sausages? Well, what?" Burdan is 
furious and slams his club down on the table with such a resounding thud that it 
echoes around the Yard walls in menacing reverberations. 

"Answer my question, why don't you eat those sausages?" 

In a barely audible voice, 416 continues to make a Gandhi nonviolent protest 
statement. Burdan never heard of Mahatma Gandhi and insists on a better rea- 
son. "You tell me the connection between those two things, I don't see it." Then 
416 breaks the illusion, reminding those within earshot that the guards are vio- 
lating the contract he signed when he volunteered for this experiment. (I am 
stunned that this reminder is ignored by them all. The guards are now totally ab- 
sorbed in their illusory prison.) 

"I don't give a damn about any contract!" Burdan yells. "You're in here be- 
cause you deserve it, 416. That's how you got in here in the first place, you broke 
the law. This ain't no nursery school. I still don't understand why you don't eat 
those damn sausages. Did you expect this to be a nursery school, 416? Do you ex- 
pect to go around breaking the law and wind up in a nursery school?" Burdan 
rants on about 416 not going to be a happy boy when his cellmate has to sleep 
without a bed on the floor tonight. However, just as it seems that Burdan is about 
to take a swing at 416, he turns away in a fury. Instead, he slaps his club into the 
palm of his hand and orders 416, "Get back into that Hole." 416 now knows the 

Burdan bangs his fists against the door of the Hole, making a deafening 
sound that reverberates inside that dark closet. "Now each of you also thank 416 
for his denying your visitors by banging on the Hole and saying 'Thank you.' " 

Each prisoner does so, banging on the closet door "with relish," except for 
5486, Jerry, who does so unwillingly. Hubbie-7258 is extremely angry by this un- 
expected twist of his fate. 

To underscore the point, Hellmann pulls 416 out of the Hole, still gripping 
the two sausages. He then runs another tormenting count singlehandedly, not 
even giving Burdan a chance to participate. Good Guard Landry is nowhere in 

Here is Hellmann's chance to break any possibility of prisoner solidarity and 
to defuse 416's potential emergence as a rebellious hero. "Now you all are going 
to suffer because this prisoner refuses to do a simple thing like eat his dinner, for 
no good reason. It would be different if he was a vegetarian. Tell him to his face 
what you think about him." Some say, "Don't be so stupid"; others accuse him of 
being childish. 

That was not good enough for "John Wayne": "Tell him that he is a 'pussy' " 
A few of them obey, but not Sarge. As a matter of principle, Sarge refuses to 
use any obscenity. Now, with two of them defying Hellmann at the same time, 
Hellman turns his wrath against Sarge, harassing him mercilessly, yelling at him 
that he is an "asshole" and, worse, insisting that he call 416 a "bastard." 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


The harsh count continues unabated for an hour, stopping only when visi- 
tors are at the door. I come on the Yard and make it clear to the guards that visit- 
ing hours must be honored. They are not pleased with this intrusion into their 
power domain but reluctantly acquiesce. There is always the post-visitor time for 
them to continue breaking down prisoner resistance. 

Obedient Prisoners Get Visitors 

Two of the more obedient prisoners, Hubbie-7258 and Sarge-2093, who have 
friends or relatives in the vicinity, are allowed to have them visit for a short time 
this evening. 7258 is deliriously happy when his pretty girlfriend arrives to see 
him. She is giving him news about their other friends, and he is listening intently, 
holding his head in his two hands. All the while, Burdan is sitting above them on 
the table, routinely banging his small white billy club. (We had to return the big 
dark ones we had borrowed from the local police department). Burdan is obvi- 
ously taken with her beauty and breaks into their conversation frequendy with 
questions and comments. 

Hubbie tells Mary Ann that it is important to "Try to keep yourself up, it's not 
that bad in here if you just cooperate." 

Girlfriend: "Are you cooperating?" 

7258 (laughing): "Yes, they are making me." 

Burdan intrudes: "Well, they had a little escape attempt." 

Girlfriend: "I heard about that." 

7258: "I didn't enjoy the rest of this day at all. We do not have anything; no 
bed, no nothing." He tells her about having to clean out stickers from dirty blan- 
kets and other nasty chores. Nevertheless, he remains upbeat and smiles and 
holds her hand for the full ten-minute visit. Burdan escorts her out as the prisoner 
returns to his lonely cell. 

The other prisoner granted a visitor is Sarge, whose father comes by. Sarge is 
bragging about his total command of the rules. "There are seventeen rules ... I 
have the rules memorized. The most basic rule is that you obey the guards." 

Dad: "Can they tell you to do anything? " 

Sarge: "Yes. Well, almost anything." 

Dad: "And what right do they have to do that?" He rubs his forehead in seem- 
ing distress at his son's plight. He is the second visitor to be clearly upset. He is 
much like the mother of Prisoner Rich- 1037 — who was right to be concerned, 
given that he broke down the next day. Nevertheless, Sarge appears to be made of 
sterner stuff. 

Sarge: "They're in charge of the running of the prison." 

Dad asks about civil rights, and then Burdan jumps in — very harshly: "He 
has no civil rights." 

Dad: "Well, I think that they do, maybe ..." (We can't hear clearly his argu- 
ment to Burdan, who is not afraid of this civilian.) 


The Lucifer Effect 

Burdan: "People in prison have no civil rights." 

Dad (exasperated): "Anyway, how long do we have to talk here?" 

"Only ten minutes," Burdan replies. 

The father disputes the amount of time left. Burdan relents and gives them 
five more minutes. Dad would like more privacy. That is not permitted for visitors 
in this prison, replies Burdan. Dad gets even more upset, but remarkably, he too 
goes by the rules and accepts this infringement on his rights by a kid playacting 
being a guard! 

Dad asks more about the rules, Sarge talks about counts, "exercising," 
chores, and lights-out. 

Dad: "Is this what you expected it to be?" 

Sarge: "I expected it to be worse." 

In disbelief, Dad exclaims: "Worse? Why worse?" 

Burdan interjects himself again. The father is now clearly annoyed by his un- 
wanted presence. The guard tells him that there were originally nine prisoners 
but now there are only five. The father asks why. 

Sarge: "Two have been paroled and two are in maximum security."* 

Dad: "Maximum security where?" 

He doesn't really know. Dad asks why they are in maximum security. 
Sarge: "They were disciplinary problems. Very dispositional. " 
Burdan responds at the same time: "Because they were bad." 
Dad: "Do you feel like you're in a prison?" 

Sarge (laughing, sidesteps a direct answer): "Well, I've never been in a prison 
before. " (Dad laughs.) 

They are alone when Burdan runs off in response to a loud noise outside. 

While he is gone, they talk about Sarge's coming up for parole, which he is 
sure he will get because he has been the most obedient prisoner to date. However, 
he still has a major concern: "I don't know what the criteria are for getting out on 

"Time's up," Geoff Landry announces. Father and son stand up, about to 
hug, but settle instead for a firm, manly handshake and a "See you soon." 

Homophobia Rears Its Ugly Head 

When I return from a quick dinner at the student cafeteria, I see troublemaker 
5 704 standing in the center of the Yard holding a chair on his head. A chair on 
his head! Hellmann is yelling at Sarge, and Burdan is chiming in. Good Prisoner 
Jerry-5486, who has been almost anonymous, is standing passively against the 
wall, while 7258 does push-ups. Apparently, 416 is back in solitary. Hellmann 
asks 5 704 why he has that chair on his head — it was he who ordered him to wear 
it like a hat. The prisoner answers meekly that he is simply following orders. He 
looks dejected; all of the old spunk seems to have drained away from 5704. Bur- 
dan tells him not to look so stupid and to put the chair away. Then Burdan bangs 
on the Hole door with his club. "You having a good time in there, 416?" 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


It is time for Hellmann to take over as director of tonight's drama. He literally 
moves Burdan aside. (No sight of Good Guard Geoff Landry on the Yard following 
the visits.) 

"While you got your hands in the air, 7258, why don't you play Franken- 
stein. 2093, you can be the Bride of Frankenstein, you stand right here." 
"You go over there," he says to Sarge. 
Sarge asks whether he should act it out. 

"Of course you should act it out. You be the Bride of Frankenstein, 72 58, you 
be Frankenstein. I want you to walk over here like Frankenstein walks, and say 
that you love 2093 . " 

As 7258 starts to walk toward his bride, Burdan stops him in his tracks. 

"That ain't no Frankenstein walk. We didn't ask you to walk like you. " 

Hellmann grabs Hubbie-7258 by the arm very aggressively, pulls him back, 
and makes him walk the proper Frankenstein walk. 

7258: "I love you, 2093." 

"Get up close! Get up close!" Shouts Burdan. 

7258 is now inches away from Sarge. "I love you, 2093. " 

Hellmann pushes them together, his hands on each of their backs until their 
bodies are touching. 

Again, Hubbie-Frankenstein-7258 says, "I love you, 2093." Hellmann be- 
rates Sarge for smiling. "Did I tell you that you could smile? This is not funny. You 
get down and do ten push-ups!" 

With Prisoner 7258's arms still stretched out in front of him, back to the 
wall, his smock lifts, revealing part of his genitals. Sarge is told to tell the other 
prisoner, Jerry-5486, that he loves him; he complies reluctantly. 

"Well, ain't that sweet? Ain't that sweet?" mocks Burdan. 

Hellmann now gets up in the face of 5486. 

"Are you smiling? Maybe you love him too. Would you go over there and tell 
him so?" 

Jerry-5486 does so without hesitation but says quiedy, "2093, 1 love you." 
Hellmann is careening wildly from prisoner to prisoner with his verbal at- 

"Put your arms down, 7258. That's why you stink so much." 
"Now all of you stinking prisoners get down on the floor, you're gonna play 

They start to play the game but are having difficulty because their shower 
clogs are falling off and their smocks are creeping up to expose their genitals as 
they jump over the bent bodies of their fellows. They can't do it right, and Burdan 
seems a bit uncomfortable with this game. Perhaps he finds the action too sexual 
or too gay for his tastes. Hellmann simplifies the game, directing only 2093 and 
5704 to play together. They continue to try to leapfrog, as Burdan emits little 

The homoerotic game is having a perverse impact on Hellmann. 


The Lucifer Effect 

"That's the way dogs do it, isn't it? Isn't that the way dogs do it? He's all ready, 
ain't he, standing behind you, doggy style? Why don't you make like a dog?" 

When tall Prisoner Paul-5704 had brought up complaints of guards has- 
sling prisoners, I'll bet that the head of the Stanford County Jail Prisoners' Griev- 
ance Committee never imagined that the guards' insulting abuse would ever 
descend to this level. He is clearly upset, and he tells John Wayne that what he has 
been asked to do would be "a little obscene." 

Hellmann takes that remark as a slap in the face: "I think your face is a little 
obscene too. Why don't you just play leapfrog and shut up." 

Geoff Landry drifts onto the scene, standing directly behind 5704 and 
watching everything. He is obviously interested in this turn of events, but he 
keeps his hands in his pockets to maintain his neutrality and pose of indifference. 
He is not wearing his anonymity-enhancing sunglasses, even though the warden 
told him to do so. 

"I'm sorry to offend the better nature of this sensitive prisoner," Hellmann 
says with derision. 

Burdan succeeds in ending this game, which he has found distasteful from 
the beginning, "I'm tired of this game, this is ridiculous." They revert to their 
more traditional game, the count. 


Hellmann is bored. He walks up and down the line of weary prisoners. Suddenly 
he whirls around and turns his wrath on Sarge: "Why are you such a ass-licker?" 
"I don't know, sir." 

"Why is it you try to be obedient so much?" 

Sarge is not afraid of him and plays the game: "It's in my nature to be obedi- 
ent, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"You are a liar. You are a stinkin' liar." 
"If you say so, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann becomes ever more obscene, maybe aroused by the previous sexual 
games: "What if I told you to get down on that floor and fuck the floor, what would 
you do then?" 

"I would tell you I didn't know how, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"What if I told you to come over here and hit your friend 5704 in the face as 
hard as you could?" 

Sarge holds his ground: "I am afraid I would be unable to do that, Mr. Correc- 
tional Officer." 

Hellmann scoffs and turns away, only to spin about and turn on a new vic- 
tim. As he opens the door to the Hole, Hellmann, like a carnival pitchman, shouts, 
"I got something right here for everyone. Why don't you take a look at this man? 
416, don't you go anywhere!" 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


416 blinks out of the darkness at the assembled prisoners and guards who 
are all looking at him. He is holding a sausage in each hand! 

Burdan: "How come you holdin' on to your sausages, 416?" 

"He hasn't ate no sausages yet," Hellmann says, his usually good grammar 
breaking down as he becomes more emotional. "And you know what that means 
for the rest of you?" 

The prisoners respond knowingly in the negative, "No blanket tonight." 

"That's right, it means no blankets tonight for all of you! Come over here one 
at a time and try to say something to 416 to get him to eat those sausages. Let's 
start with you, 5486." 

The prisoner walks to the door, looks 4 1 6 in the eyes and tells him gently, 
"You eat those sausages if you want to, 416." 

"That's sure a half-assed way to tell him to do something, 5486," Burdan ad- 
monishes. "I guess you don't want your blankets tonight. Next up, 7258, you tell 

In sharp contrast to the first prisoner in line, 7258 yells at the rebel inmate, 
"Eat your sausages, 416, or I'll kick your ass!" 

Hellmann is pleased at the expression of inmate enmity, and he grins from 
ear to ear. "Now, that's more like it! 5486, you come over here and do it again. Tell 
him you gonna kick his ass if he don't eat those sausages." 

He now meekly complies. "2093, come over here and tell him you're gonna 
kick his ass." 

Sarge makes a moving statement: "I am sorry, sir, I will not use a profane 
word toward another human being." 
"Just what do you object to?" 
"I object to the word that you used." 

Hellmann tries to get him to say "ass," but his tricks don't work. 

"Which word? 'Kick?' You don't wanna say 'kick,' is that what it is? Then 
what the hell are you talkin' about?" 

Sarge tries to clarify himself, but Hellmann cuts him off "I gave you an order! " 

Hellmann is becoming frustrated by Sarge's refusal to follow his orders. For 
the first time, the seemingly mindless robot has shown he has backbone and soul. 

"Now, you get over there and tell him what I told you to tell him." 

Sarge continues to apologize but remains firm. "I am sorry, Mr. Correctional 
Officer. I am not capable of doing it." 

"Well, you're not capable of having a bed tonight, is that what you want to 

Standing his ground, Sarge makes clear his values: "I would prefer to go 
without a bed than to say that, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann is steaming. He paces a few steps away and then turns back toward 
Sarge, as though he were going to whack him for his insubordination in front of 
this entire audience. 


The Lucifer Effect 

Good Guard Geoff Landry sensing the eruption, offers a compromise: "Go 
over and say you're gonna kick him in the end, then." 

"Yes, Mr. Correctional Officer," says Sarge. He then walks over and says to 
416, "Eat your sausages or I'll kick you in the end. " 

Landry asks, "Do you mean it?" 

"Yes . . . no, Mr. Correctional Officer. I'm sorry, I don't mean it." 
Burdan asks why he's lying. 

"I did what the correctional officer told me to say, sir." 

Hellmann comes to the defense of his fellow officer: "He didn't tell you to lie." 

Burdan realizes that Sarge is getting the upper hand by holding fast to his 
high moral ground and it could have an effect on the others. He deftly turns 
things around and down: "Nobody wants you to do any lying in here, 2093. So 
why don't you do some lying on the ground." 

He makes Sarge lie on the floor facedown with his arms spread out. 

"Now start giving us some push-ups from your position." 

Hellmannjoins in: "5704, you go over and sit on his back." 

After more direction from Hellmann on how he should do push-ups from 
such a position, Sarge is strong enough to do so. 

"And don't help him. Now do a push-up. 5486, you sit on his back too, facing 
the other way." He hesitates. "Let's go, on top of his back, now!" He complies. 

Together the guards force Sarge to do a push-up with both prisoners 5486 
and 5704 sitting on his back (they do so without any hesitation). Sarge struggles 
with all his might and pride to complete a push-up cycle. 

He strains to raise himself from the floor but then collapses under the weight 
of this human burden. The devilish duo bursts into laugher, making fun of Sarge. 
They are not quite done humiliating Sarge, but 416's stubborn resistance against 
eating his sausages is of greater immediate consequence to these guards. Hell- 
mann intones: "I just don't understand a thing like those sausages, 416. 1 don't 
understand how we can have so many counts and so many good times, we do it so 
nice, and tonight we just fuck it up. Why is that?" 

While Hellmann seeks a simple answer, Burdan is quietly talking with 416 
about the sausages, trying another soft-sell tactic: "How do they taste? Mmmm; I 
know you'd like 'em once you tasted 'em." 

Hellmann repeats his question more loudly, in case any one has not heard it: 
"Why do we have so many good counts and then you try to fuck up tonight?" 

As Hellmann goes down the line for explicit answers, 7258 responds, "I don't 
know; I guess we're just bastards, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Sarge answers, "I really wouldn't know, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann seizes upon another chance to get back at Sarge for his earlier vic- 
torious subordination: "Are you a bastard?" 

"If you say so, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"If I say so? I want you to say it." 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


Sarge is steadfast: "I'm sorry sir, I object to the use of the language, Sir. I can- 
not say it." 

Burdan jumps in: "You just said you couldn't say that stuff to other human 
beings, 2093. But this is a different question. You can't say it to yourself?" 
Sarge counters, "I consider myself a human being, sir." 
Burdan: "You consider yourself another human being?" 
Sarge: "I made the statement that I could not say it to another human being." 
Burdan: "And that includes yourself} " 

Sarge replies in an even, measured, carefully phrased way, as though in a col- 
lege debate, and in this situation, where he has been the target of such abuse, 
says, "The statement initially would not have included myself, sir. I would not 
think of saying it to myself. The reason is that because I would be ..." He sighs 
and then trails off, mumbling, becoming emotionally battered. 

Hellmann: "So that means you would be a bastard, wouldn't you?" 

Sarge: "No, Mr. — " 

Hellmann: "Yes, you would!" 

Sarge: "Yes, if you say so, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Burdan: "You'd be saying very nasty things about your mother, that's what 
you'd be doing, 2093." 

Burdan obviously wants a piece of the action, but Hellmann wants to run the 
game himself and does not appreciate his sidekick's intrusions. 

Hellmann: "What would you be? What would you be? Would you be a bas- 

Sarge: "Yes, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann: "Well, let me hear you say it." 

Sarge: "I'm sorry, sir. I will not say it." 

Hellmann: "Why the hell won't you say it?" 

Sarge: "Because I do not use any profane language." 

Hellmann: "Well, why did you apply it to yourself? What are you?" 

Sarge: "I am whatever you wish me to be, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann: "Well, if you say it, if you say that you are a bastard — you wanna 
know something — then you just proved my point. That you was a bastard. You 
say so. Then why don't you say it?" 

Sarge: "I'm sorry, sir, I will not say it." 

Hellmann senses that he has lost another challenge, and he reverts to the 
divide-and-conquer tactic that has proven so effective before: "Now, boys, you 
wanna get a good night's sleep tonight, don't you?" 

They all say, "Yes, sir!" 

Hellmann: "Well, I think we gonna wait a little bit, to let 2093 think about 
just what a bastard he is. And then maybe he'll tell the rest of us that he thinks so." 

(This is an unexpected power struggle between the most controlling, power- 
hungry guard and the prisoner who until now has been a totally obedient pris- 


The Lucifer Effect 

oner, so much so that he is ridiculed as "Sarge," whom most prisoners and guards 
dislike as they all have considered him to be nothing more than a military robot. 
He is proving that he has another admirable facet to his character; he is a man of 

Sarge: "I think you are perfectly accurate in your condemnation of me, Mr. 
Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann: "Oh, I know that." 

Sarge: "But, I cannot say the word, Mr. Correctional Officer." 
Hellmann: "Say what?" 

Sarge: "I shall not say, with any meaning, the word 'bastard.' " 
Bells, whistles, cannons, parade music sounds. 
Burdan shouts out with unbridled joy: "He said it!" 
Hellmann: "Well, glory be! Yes, indeed! Did he say that, 5704?" 
5704: "Yes, he did, Mr. Correctional Officer." 
Hellmann: "I believe we've got a winner." 

Burdan: "These boys might even get to bed tonight, who knows?" 

Not content to have won a partial victory, Hellmann has to demonstrate the 
arbitrary power he commands. "Just for swearing, 2093, you get down on the 
floor and do ten push-ups." 

Sarge: "Thank you, Mr. Correctional Officer," he says as he executes perfect 
push-up form, despite his obvious exhaustion. 

Burdan, upset that Sarge can still perform so well, derides even perfect push- 
ups: "2093, where do you think you are? Boot camp?" 

Now laid-back Geoff Landry chimes in from the chair he has been lounging 
in for the past hour: "Do ten more." For the spectators he adds, "Do the rest of you 
think those are good push-ups?" 

They answer, "Yes, they are." Big Landry shows an odd display of authority, 
perhaps to assure himself that he still has some in the eyes of the prisoners. 

"Well you're wrong. 2093, do five more." 

Sarge's account of this confrontation is framed in a curiously impersonal 

The guard ordered me to call another prisoner a 'bastard,' and call myself 
the same. The former I would never do, the latter of which would produce 
a logical paradox denying the validity of the former. He began as he always 
does before "punishments," alluding to the hint in his vocal intonation 
that the others would be punished for my actions. In order to avoid their 
punishment and avoid obeying that command, I produced a reaction that 
would solve both by saying, "I will not use the word bastard in any mean- 
ingful way" — giving both he and myself a way out. 10 

Sarge is emerging as a man of considerable principle, not the blindly obedient 
toady he initially seemed to be. Later, he tells us something interesting about the 
mind-set he adopted as a prisoner in this setting: 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


When I entered the prison I determined to be myself as closely as I know 
myself. My philosophy of prison was not to cause or add to the deteriora- 
tion of character on the part of fellow prisoners or myself, and to avoid 
causing anyone punishments because of my actions. 


Why have those two shriveled, filthy sausages become so important? For 4 16, the 
sausages represent challenging an evil system by doing something that he can 
control and cannot be forced to do otherwise. In so doing, he foils the guards' 
dominance. For the guards, 416's refusal to eat the sausages represents a major 
violation of the rule that prisoners must eat at mealtimes and only at mealtimes. 
That rule was instituted so that prisoners would not be asking for or getting food 
at any time other than the three scheduled mealtimes. However, this rule has now 
been extended to cover the guards' power to force prisoners to eat food whenever 
it is served. Refusal to eat has become an act of disobedience that they will not tol- 
erate, because such refusal could trigger further challenges to their authority 
from the others, who until now had traded rebellion for docility. 

For the other prisoners, 416's refusal to knuckle under should have been 
seen as a heroic gesture. It might have rallied them around him to take a collective 
stand against their continuing and escalating abusive treatment by the guards. 
The strategic problem is that 416 did not first share his plan with the others to get 
them on his side by understanding the significance of his dissent. His decision 
to go on a hunger strike was private and thus did not engage his peers. Sensing 
416's tenuous social position in the jail as the new guy who has not suffered as 
much as the others, the guards intuitively set about framing him into a "trouble- 
maker" whose obstinance will only result in punishment or loss of privileges for 
them. They also characterize his hunger strike as a selfish act because he does not 
care that it can curtail prisoner-visiting privileges. However, the prisoners should 
see that it is the guards who are establishing this arbitrary illogicality between his 
eating sausages and their getting visitors. 

Having dismissed Sarge's opposition, Hellmann turns back to his skinny 
nemesis, Prisoner 4 1 6 . He orders him out of solitary to do fifteen push-ups, "Just 
for me, and real quick." 

416 gets down on the floor and begins to do push-ups . However, he is so weak 
and so disoriented that they are hardly push-ups. He is mostly just raising his 

Hellmann can't believe what he is seeing. "What is he doing?" he shouts in 
an incredulous voice. 

"Pushing his ass around," says Burdan. 

Landry awakening from his dormant state adds, "We told him to do push- 

Hellmann is screaming: "Are those push-ups, 5486?" 


The Lucifer Effect 

The prisoner answers, "I guess so, Mr. Correctional Officer." 
"No way. They are not push-ups." 

Jerry-5486 agrees, "If you say so, they are not push-ups, Mr. Correctional Of- 

Burdan jumps in: "He's swishing his ass, isn't he, 2093?" 

Sarge meekly acquiesces: "If you say so, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Burdan: "What's he doing?" 

5486 complies: "He's swishin' his ass." 

Hellmann makes Paul-5704 demonstrate the way to do good push-ups for 
416's edification. 

"See that, 416? He's not pushin' his ass. He's not fuckin' a hole in the 
ground. Now do it right!" 

416 tries to imitate 5704, but he is unable to do so because he just does not 
have enough strength. Burdan adds his mean observation: "Can't you keep your 
body straight while you're doing this, 416? You look like you're on a roller coaster 
or something." 

Hellmann rarely uses physical aggression. He prefers instead to dominate 
verbally, sarcastically, and with inventively sadistic games. He is always aware of 
the exact freedom allowed him by the margin of his role as guard — he may impro- 
vise but must not lose control of himself However, this night's challenges have 
gotten to him. He stands beside 416, who is lying on the ground in a push-up po- 
sition, and orders him to do slow push-ups. Hellmann then puts his foot on top of 
416's back as he goes up and pushes down hard on the backstroke. The others all 
seem to be surprised at this physical abuse. After a couple of push-ups, the tough- 
guy guard lifts his foot off of the prisoner's back and orders him back into the 
Hole, slamming the door with a loud clang and locking it. 

As I watch this, I recall prisoners' drawings of Nazi guards at Auschwitz 
doing the same thing, stepping on a prisoner's back as he does push-ups. 

"A Self-Righteous, Pious Asshole" 

Burdan yells to 416 through the door of his confinement, "You don't eat, you're 
not gonna have very much energy, 416." (I suspect Burdan is beginning to feel 
sorry for the plight of this puny little kid.) 

Now it is time for Guard Hellmann's ascendancy. He delivers a minisermon: 
"I hope you boys are taking an example here. There is no reason for you to disobey 
orders. I haven't given you anything you can't obey. There's no reason why I 
should offend anybody. You're not in here for being upstanding citizens, you 
know. All this self-righteous drivel makes me puke. And you can knock it off right 

He asks Sarge for an evaluation of his little speech, and Sarge answers, "I 
think you made a nice speech, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Getting close to his face, Hellmann goes back to attacking Sarge: "You think 
you're a self-righteous, pious asshole?" 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


Sarge replies: "If you wish to think so." 

"Well, think about that. You are a self-righteous, pious asshole." 
We are back on the not so merry-go-round, with Sarge replying "I will be one 
if you wish me to be, Mr. Correctional Officer." 
"I don't wish you to be, you just are." 
"As you say, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

Hellmann again goes up and down the ranks desperate for approval, and 
each prisoner agrees with him. 

"He's a self-righteous, pious asshole." 

"A self-righteous, pious asshole, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"Yes, a self-righteous, pious asshole." 

Delighted that at least this little world sees things his way, Hellmann tells 
Sarge, "I'm sorry, it's four to one. You lose." 

Sarge responds that all that matters is what he thinks of himself. 

"Well, if you think something else, then I think you're in very serious trouble. 
Because you're not really in touch with what is real, with reality. You live a life 
that's nothing but mendacity, that's what you doin'. I'm sick of you, 2093." 

"I'm sorry, Mr. Correctional Officer." 

"You such a self-righteous, pious bastard that I wanna puke." 

"I'm sorry if I make you feel that way, Mr. Correctional Officer." Burdan 
makes Sarge bend over in a fixed position touching his toes, so that he doesn't 
have to look at his face again. 

"Say, 'Thank You, 416!"' 

The last thing that Hellmann must achieve in his battle against belligerents is to 
crush any sympathy that may be developing among the prisoners for the sad case 
of 416. 

"It is unfortunate that we all have to suffer because some people just don't 
have their minds right. You've got a nice friend in here [as he bangs against the 
door of the Hole]. He's gonna see to it that you don't get blankets tonight." 

Hellmann aligns his plight with that of the prisoners, against their common 
enemy, numero 416, who is about to harm them all by his foolish hunger strike. 

Burdan and Hellmann line up the four prisoners and encourage them to say 
"Thanks" to their fellow Prisoner 416 sitting in the dark, cramped Hole. Each 
does so in turn. 

"Why don't you all thank 416 for this?" 

They all recite, "Thank you, 416." 

Still even that is not sufficient for this devilish duo. Hellmann commands 
them, "Now go over there, next to the door. I want you to thank him with your 
fists, on the door." 

They do so, one by one, banging on the door, as they recite, "Thank you, 
4 1 6 ! " As they do, a loud, resonating noise booms through the Hole, to further ter- 
rify pitiable 416, alone in there. 


The Lucifer Effect 

Burdan: "That's the way, with real spirit." 

(It's difficult to determine the extent to which the other prisoners are angry 
with 416 for causing them all this unnecessary grief, or are just following orders, 
or are indirectly working off some of their frustrations and rage against the 
guards' abuses.) 

Hellmann shows them how to bang really hard against the door, several 
times for good measure. Sarge is last and surprisingly complies meekly and obedi- 
ently. When he is finished, Burdan grabs Sarge by the shoulders and pushes him 
hard against the back wall. He then orders the prisoners back into their cells and 
says to his chief operating officer, Hellmann, "They're all ready for lights-out, Of- 


Recall the classic southern prison movie Cool Hand Luke, from which I borrowed 
the idea that the guards and staff should wear silver reflecting sunglasses to cre- 
ate a sense of anonymity. Tonight Guard Hellmann would improvise a script that 
might rival the best that the scriptwriter could have created in shaping the nature 
of prison authority. He enacts a creatively evil scene that demonstrates that his 
power can create an arbitrary reality by providing the inmates with an illusion of 
choice to punish one of their fellows. 

Lights dimmed, prisoners in their cells, 416 in solitary. An eerie quiet looms 
over the Yard. Hellmann slithers up on the table that is between the Hole and our 
observation post, behind which we are recording these events, allowing us to get 
a close look at the unfolding drama. As the chief night shift guard leans back 
against the wall, legs crossed in a Buddha-like lotus position, one arm hanging be- 
tween his legs, the other resting on the table, Hellmann is the portrait of power in 
repose. He moves his head slowly from side to side. We notice his long sideburns, 
muttonchops, down to his chin. He licks his thick lips as he chooses his words 
carefully and articulates them with an accentuated southern drawl. 

The Man has come up with a new Machiavellian plan. He lays out his terms 
for the release of 416 from solitary. It is not up to him to decide to keep the trou- 
blemaker in the Hole all night; rather, he is inviting all of them, the fellow prison- 
ers, to make that decision: Should 416 be released now, or should he rot in the 
Hole all night? 

Just then, Kindly Guard Geoff Landry saunters into the Yard. At six feet three 
and 185 pounds, he is the biggest of all the guards or prisoners. As usual, he 
holds a cigarette in one hand, the other hand in his pocket, sunglasses conspicu- 
ously absent. He walks to the center of the action, stops, looks distressed, frowns, 
seems about to intervene, and does nothing but passively observe John Wayne 
continue with showtime. 

"Now, there are several ways to do this, depending on what you want to do. 
Now, if 4 1 6 does not want to eat his sausages, then you can give me your blankets 

Wednesday Is Spiraling Out of Control 


and sleep on the bare mattress. Or you can keep your blankets and 416 will stay 
in there another day. Now what will it be?" 

"I'll keep my blanket, Mr. Correctional Officer," 7258 calls out immediately. 
(Hubbie has no use for 416.) 

"What will it be over here?" 

"Keep my blanket," says Paul-5704, our former rebel leader. 
"How about 5486?" 

Refusing to yield to the social pressure, 5486 shows sympathy for the sad 
416 by offering to give up his blanket so that 416 does not have to stay in solitary 
for another day. 

Burdan yells at him, "We don't want your blanket!" 

"Now, you boys are gonna have to come to some kind of decision here." 

Burdan, who has been assuming the posture of a swaggering little authority 
figure with hands on hips, swinging his club as often as possible, walks up and 
down past each of the cells. He turns to Sarge in his cell and asks him, "What do 
you feel about it?" 

Surprisingly, Sarge comes down from his high moral ground, which now 
seems limited only to not speaking obscenities, declares, "If the other two wish to 
keep their blankets, I'll keep my blanket." That proves to be the crucial swing vote. 

Burdan exclaims, "We got three against one." 

Hellmann repeats that message loud and clear, so that all can hear. 

"We got three against one." As he slides off the table, the boss shouts into the 
Hole, "416, you're gonna be in there for a while, so just get used to it! "" 

Hellmann struts off the Yard, with Burdan dutifully following and Landry 
taking up the reluctant rear. An apparent victory has been won in the endless 
struggle of guard power against organized prisoner resistance. Indeed, it has been 
a hard day's night for these guards, but they can now enjoy the sweet taste of vic- 
tory in this battle of wills and wits. 


The Power to Parole 

Technically speaking, our Stanford Prison was more like a county jail filled with 
a group of adolescents who were being held in pretrial detention following their 
Sunday-morning mass arrests by the Palo Alto City Police. Obviously, no trial date 
had yet been set for any of these role-playing felons, and none of them had legal 
representation. Nevertheless, following the advice of the prison chaplain, Father 
McDermott, a mother of one of the prisoners was going about securing counsel 
for her son. After a full staff meeting with Warden David Jaffe and the "psychologi- 
cal counselors," the graduate assistants Craig Haney and Curt Banks, we decide 
to include a Parole Board hearing even though in fact that would not have oc- 
curred at this early stage in the criminal justice process. 

This would provide an opportunity to observe each prisoner deal with an un- 
expected opportunity to be released from his imprisonment. Until now, each pris- 
oner had appeared only as a single actor among an ensemble of players. By 
holding the hearing in a room outside the prison setting, the prisoners would get 
some respite from their oppressively narrow confines in the basement level. They 
might feel freer to express their attitudes and feelings in this new environment, 
which would include some personnel not directly connected with the prison staff. 
The procedure also added to the formality of our prison experience. The Parole 
Board hearing, like Visiting Nights, the prison chaplain's visit, and the anticipated 
visit by a public defender, lent credibility to the prison experience. Finally, I 
wanted to see how our prison consultant, Carlo Prescott, would enact his role as 
head of the Stanford County Jail Parole Board. As I said, Carlo had failed many pa- 
role board hearings in the past seventeen years and only recently had been 
granted lifetime parole for "good time served" on his armed robbery convictions. 
Would he be compassionate and side with the prisoners' requests, as someone 
who had been in their place pleading for parole? 

The Parole Board hearings were held on the first floor of Stanford's Psy- 

The Power to Parole 


chology Department, in my laboratory, a carpeted, large room that included pro- 
visions for hidden videotaping and observation from behind a specially designed 
one-way window. The four members of the Board sat around a six-sided table. 
Carlo sat at the head place, next to Craig Haney, and on his other side sat a male 
graduate student and a female secretary, both of whom had little prior knowledge 
of our study and were helping us out as a favor. Curt Banks would serve as 
sergeant-at-arms to transfer each applicant from the guard command to the 
parole-hearing command. I would be videotaping the proceedings from the adja- 
cent room. 

Of the remaining eight prisoners on Wednesday morning, after 8612's re- 
lease, four had been deemed potentially eligible for parole by the staff, based on 
generally good behavior. They had been given the opportunity to request a hear- 
ing of their case and had written formal requests explaining why they thought 
they deserved parole at this time. Some of the others would have a hearing an- 
other day. However, the guards insisted that Prisoner 416 not be granted such op- 
portunity because of his persistent violation of Rule 2, "Prisoners must eat at 
mealtimes and only at mealtimes." 


The Lucifer Effect 


The day shift guards line up this band of four prisoners in the Yard, as was done 
routinely during each night's last toilet run. The chain upon one prisoner's leg is 
attached to that of the next, and large paper bags are put over their heads so they 
will not know how they got from the jail yard to the parole setting or where in the 
building it is located. They are seated on a bench in the hall outside the parole 
room. Their leg chains are removed, but they sit still handcuffed and bagged until 
Curt Banks comes out of the room to call each one by his number. 

Curt, the sergeant-at-arms, reads the prisoner's parole statement, followed 
by the opposing statement of any of the guards to deny his parole. He escorts each 
to sit at the right-hand side of Carlo, who takes the lead from there. In order of ap- 
pearance come Prisoner Jim-4325, Prisoner Glenn-3401, Prisoner Rich-1037, 
and finally Prisoner Hubbie-7258. After each has had his time before the Board, 
he is returned to the hallway bench, handcuffed, chained, and bagged until the 
session is completed and all the prisoners are returned to the prison basement. 

Before the first prisoner appears, as I'm checking the video quality, the old- 
time pro, Carlo, begins to educate the Board neophytes on some basic Parole 
Board realities. (See Notes for his soliloquy.) 1 Curt Banks, sensing that Carlo is 
warming up to one of the long speeches he's heard too often during our summer 
school course, says authoritatively, "We've gotta move, time is running." 

Prisoner 4325 Pleads Not Guilty 

Prisoner Jim-4325 is escorted into the chamber; his handcuffs are removed, and 
he is offered a seat. He is a big, robust guy. Carlo challenges him right off with 
"Why are you in prison? How do you plead?" The prisoner responds, with all due 
seriousness, "Sir, I have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon. But I 
wish to plead not guilty to that charge." 2 

"Not guilty?" Carlo feigns total surprise. "So you're implying that the officers 
who arrested you didn't know what they were doing, that there's been some mis- 
take, some confusion? That the people who were trained in law enforcement, and 
presumably have had a number of years of experience, are prone to pick you up 
out of the entire population of Palo Alto and that they don't know what they're 
talking about, that they have some confusion in their minds about what you've 
done? In other words, they're liars — are you saying that they're liars?" 

4325: "I'm not saying they're liars, there must have been very good evi- 
dence and everything. I certainly respect their professional knowledge and every- 
thing. ... I haven't seen any evidence, but I assume it must be pretty good for 
them to pick me up." (The prisoner is submitting to higher authority; his initial 
assertiveness is receding in the wake of Carlo's dominating demeanor.) 

Carlo Prescott: "In that case, you've just verified that there must be some- 
thing to what they say." 

The Power to Parole 


4325: "Well, obviously there must be something to what they say if they 
picked me up." 

Prescott starts with questions that explore the prisoner's background and his 
future plans, but he is eager to know more about his crime: "What kinds of asso- 
ciations, what kinds of things do you do in your spare time that put you into a po- 
sition to be arrested? That's a serious charge . . . you know you can kill someone 
when you assault them. What did you do? You shoot them or stab them or — ?" 

4325: "I'm not sure, sir. Officer Williams said — " 

Prescott: "What did you do? Shoot them or stab them or bomb them? Did you 
use one of those rifles?" 

Craig Haney and other members of the Board try to ease the tension by ask- 
ing the prisoner about how he has been adjusting to prison life. 

4325: "Well, by nature I'm something of an introvert... and I guess the first 
few days I thought about it, and I figured that the very best thing to do was to be- 
have ..." 

Prescott takes over again: "Answer his question, we don't want a lot of intel- 
lectual bullshit. He asked you a direct question, now answer the question!" 

Craig interrupts with a question about the rehabilitative aspects of the 
prison, to which the prisoner replies, "Well, yes, there's some merit to it, I've cer- 
tainly learned to be obedient, and at points of stress I've been somewhat bitter, but 
the correctional officers are doing their job." 

Prescott: "This Parole Board can't hold your hand outside. You say they've 
taught you a degree of obedience, taught you how to be cooperative, but you 
won't have anybody watching over you outside, you'll be on your own. What kind 
of a citizen do you think you can make, with these kinds of charges against you? 
I'm looking over your charges here. This is quite a list!" With total assurance and 
dominance, Carlo looks over a totally blank notepad as if it were the prisoner's "rap 
sheet," filled with his convictions, and remarks about his pattern of arrests and 
releases. He continues, "You know, you tell us that you can make it out there as a 
result of the discipline you learned in here. We can't hold your hand out there. . . 
what makes you think you can make it now? " 

4325: "I've found something to look forward to. I am going to the University 
of California, to Berkeley, and going into a major. I want to try physics, I'm defi- 
nitely looking forward to that experience." 

Prescott cuts him short and switches to interrogate him about his religious 
beliefs and then about why he has not taken advantage of the prison's programs 
of group therapy or vocational therapy. The prisoner seems genuinely confused, 
saying he would have done so but he was never offered such opportunities. Carlo 
asks Curt Banks to check on the truth of that last assertion, which, he says, he 
personally doubts. (Of course, he knows that we have no such programs in this 
experiment, but it is what his parole board members have always asked him in the 

After a few more questions from other Board members, Prescott asks the cor- 


The Lucifer Effect 

rectional officer to take the inmate back to his cell. The prisoner stands and 
thanks the board. He then automatically extends his arms, palms facing each 
other, as the attending guard locks on the handcuffs. Jim-4325 is escorted out, re- 
bagged, and made to sit in silence in the hallway while the next prisoner has his 
turn at the Board. 

After the prisoner leaves, Prescott notes for the record, "Well, that guy's an 
awful smooth talker..." 

My notes remind me that "Prisoner 4325 has appeared quite composed and 
generally in control of himself — he has been one of our 'model prisoners' so far. 
He seems confused by Prescott's aggressive interrogation about the crime for 
which he was arrested, and is easily pushed into admitting that he's probably 
guilty, despite the fact that his crime is completely fictional. Throughout the hear- 
ing, he is obedient and agreeable, which demeanor contributes to his relative suc- 
cess and probably longevity as a survivor in this prison setting." 

A Shining Example Is Dimmed 

Next, Curt announces that Prisoner 3401 is ready for our board hearing, and 
reads aloud his appeal: 

I want parole so that I may take my new life into this despairing world and 
show the lost souls that good behavior is rewarded with warm hearts; that 
the materialist pigs have no more than the impoverished poor; that the 
common criminal can be fully rehabilitated in less than a week and that 
God, faith, and brotherhood are still strongly in us all. I deserve parole be- 
cause I believe my conduct throughout my stay has been undoubtedly be- 
yond reproach. I have enjoyed the comforts and find that it would be best 
to move on to higher and more sacred places. Also, being a cherished prod- 
uct of our environment, we all can be assured that my full rehabilitation is 
everlasting. God bless. Very truly yours, 3401 . Remember me, please, as a 
shining example. 

The guards' counter-recommendations present a stark contrast: 

3401 has been a constant two-bit troublemaker. Not only that, he is a fol- 
lower, finding no good within himself to develop. He meekly mimics bad 
things. I recommend no parole. Signed by Guard Arnett. 

I see no reason why 3401 deserves parole, nor can I even make the con- 
nection between the 3401 1 know and the person described in this parole 
request. Signed by Guard Markus. 

3401 doesn't deserve parole and his own sarcastic request indicates this. 
Signed by Guard John Landry. 

Prisoner 3401 is then brought in with the paper bag still over his head, 
which Carlo wants removed so he can see the face of this "little punk." He and the 

The Power to Parole 


other board members react with surprise when they discover that 3401 , Glenn, is 
Asian American, the only non-Caucasian in the mix. Glenn is playing against 
type with his rebellious, flippant style. However, he fits the stereotype physically; a 
short five feet, two inches, slight but wiry build, cute face, and shiny jet black hair. 

Craig starts by inquiring about the prisoner's role in the prisoner uprising 
that started when his cell created the barricade. What did he do to stop it? 

3401 replies with surprising bluntness: "I did not stop it, I encouraged it!" 
After further inquiry into this situation by other board members, 3401 continues 
in a sarcastic tone, so different from Prisoner 4325's apparent humility, "I think 
the purpose of our institution is to rehabilitate the prisoners and not to antago- 
nize them, and I felt that as a result of our actions — " 

Warden Jaffe, seated along the side of the room and not at the Board table, 
cannot resist getting in his licks: "Perhaps you don't have the proper notion of 
what rehabilitation is. We're trying to teach you to be a productive member of so- 
ciety, not how to barricade yourself in the cell!" 

Prescott has had enough of these diversions. He reasserts his role as head 
honcho: "At least two citizens have said that they observed you leaving the site of 
the crime." (He has invented this on the spot.) Carlo continues, " To challenge the 
vision of three people is to say that all of humanity is blind!" Now, did you write 
that God, faith, and brotherhood are still strong'? Is it brotherhood to take some- 
body else's property?" 

Carlo then moves in to play the obvious race card: "Very few of you Oriental 
people are in the prisons ... in fact, they're likely to be very good citizens. . . . 
You've been a constant troublemaker, you've mocked a prison situation here, you 
come in here and talk about rehabilitation as if you think you should be permit- 
ted to run a prison. You sit here at the table and you interrupt the warden by indi- 
cating that you think that what you're saying is much more important than 
anything that he could say. Frankly, I wouldn't parole you if you were the last 
man in the prison, I think you're the least likely prospect of parole we have, what 
do you think about that?" 

"You're entitled to your opinion, sir," says 340 1 . 

"My opinion means something in this particular place!" Carlo retorts angrily. 

Prescott asks more questions, not allowing the prisoner a chance to answer 
them, and ends up denouncing and dismissing 3401: "I don't think we need to 
take any more time just now. I'm of the opinion that the record and his attitude in 
the boardroom indicate quite clearly what his attitude is . . . we've got a schedule, 
and I don't see any reason to even discuss this. What we have here is a recalcitrant 
who writes nice speeches." 

Before leaving, the prisoner tells the Board that he has a skin rash that is 
going to break out and it is worrying him. Prescott asks whether he has seen a 
doctor, whether he has gone on sick call or done anything constructive to take 
care of his problem. When the prisoner says that he has not, Carlo reminds him 
that this is a parole board and not a medical board, and then dismisses his con- 


The Lucifer Effect 

cern: "We try to find some reason to parole any man who comes in, and once you 
come into this particular prison it's up to you to maintain a record, a kind of de- 
meanor which indicates to us that you can make an adjustment to society.... I 
want you to consider some of the things that you wrote at an intrinsic level; 
you're an intelligent man and know the language quite well, I think that you can 
probably change yourself, yes, you might have a chance to change yourself in the 

Carlo turns to the guard and gestures to take the prisoner away. A now- 
contrite little boy slowly raises his arms outstretched as handcuffs are applied, 
and out he goes. He may be realizing that his flippant attitude has cost him dearly, 
that he was not prepared for this event to be so serious and the Parole Board so in- 

My notes indicate that Prisoner 3401 is more complex than he appears ini- 
tially. He reveals an interesting mix of traits. He is usually quite serious and polite 
when he is dealing with the guards in the prison, but in this instance, he has writ- 
ten a sarcastic, humorous letter requesting parole, referencing a nonexistent re- 
habilitation, mentioning his spirituality, and claiming to be a model prisoner. The 
guards don't seem to like him, as is evident in their strong letters advising against 
parole. His bold parole request letter stands in striking contrast with his 
demeanor — the young man we see in this room, subdued, even cowed, by the ex- 
perience. "No joking allowed here." The Board, especially Prescott, goes after him 
viciously, yet he doesn't cope with the attack effectively. As the hearing pro- 
gresses, he becomes increasingly withdrawn and unresponsive. I wonder if he 
will survive the full two weeks. 

A Rebel Relents 

Next up is Prisoner 1037, Rich, whose mother was so worried about him last 
night when she visited and saw him looking so awful. He is the same one who 
blockaded himself in Cell 2 this morning. He is also a frequent occupant of the 
Hole. 1037's appeal is interesting but loses something when read quickly in a flat, 
unemotional tone by Curt Banks: 

I would like to be paroled so that I may spend the last moments of my 
teenage years with old friends. I will turn 20 on Monday. I believe that the 
correctional staff has convinced me of my many weaknesses. On Monday, 
I rebelled, thinking that I was being treated unjustly. However, that 
evening I finally realized that I was unworthy of better treatment. Since 
that time I have done my best to cooperate, and I now know that every 
member of the correctional staff is only interested in the well-being of my- 
self and the other prisoners. Despite my horrible disrespect for them and 
their wishes, the prison staff has treated and is treating me well. I deeply 
respect their ability to turn the other cheek and I believe that because of 

The Power to Parole 


their own goodness I have been rehabilitated and transformed into a better 
human being. Sincerely, 1037. 

Three guards have provided a collective recommendation, which Curt reads 

While 1037 is improving since his rebellion phase, I believe he has a bit 
more to develop before being exposed to the public as one of our corrected 
products. I agree with the other officers' appraisal of 1037, and also with 
1037, that he has gotten much better, but has not yet reached a perfectly 
acceptable level. 1037 has a way to go before parole, and is improving. I 
don't recommend parole. 

When Rich- 1037 enters the room, he reveals a strange blend of youthful en- 
ergy and incipient depression. Immediately, he talks about his birthday, his only 
reason to request parole; it happens to be very important to him, and he forgot 
about it when he originally signed up. He is in full swing when the warden asks 
him a question that he can't answer without either getting into trouble or undo- 
ing his justification for leaving: "Don't you think our prison is capable of giving 
you a birthday party?" 

Prescott seizes the opportunity: "You've been in society for a while, even at 
your age. You know the rules. You must recognize that prisons are for people who 
break rules, and you place that in jeopardy by doing exactly what you did. Son, I 
recognize that you're changing, it's indicated here, and I think seriously that 
you've improved. But here, in your own handwriting, 'despite my horrible disre- 
spect for them and their wishes.' Horrible disrespect! You can't disrespect other 
people and their property. What would happen if everybody in this nation disre- 
spected everybody else's property? You'll probably kill if you're apprehended." 

As Carlo continues to seemingly review the prisoner's record on his still blank 
notepad, he stops at the point where he has discovered something vital: "I see here 
in your arrest reports that you were quite cantankerous, in fact you had to be re- 
pressed, and you could have inflicted hurt or worse on some of the arresting offi- 
cers. I'm very impressed by your progress, and I think that you're beginning to 
recognize that your behavior has been immature and in many ways is entirely de- 
void of judgment and concern for other people. You turn people into sticks; you 
make them think that they are objects, for your use. You've manipulated people! 
All your life you seem to have manipulated people, all your reports talk about your 
indifference toward law and order. There are periods in which you don't seem to 
control your behavior. What makes you think that you could be a good parole 
prospect? What could you tell us? We're trying to help you." 

Prisoner 1037 is not prepared for this personal attack on his character. He 
mumbles an incoherent explanation for being able to "walk away" from a situa- 
tion that might tempt him to behave violently. He goes on to say that this prison 


The Lucifer Effect 

experience has helped him: "Well, I've gotten to see a lot of people's different reac- 
tions to different situations, how they handled themselves with respect to other 
people, such as speaking with various cellmates, their reactions to the same situa- 
tions. The three different shifts of guards, I've noticed the individual guards have 
small differences in the same situations." 

1037 then curiously brings up his "weaknesses," namely his part as agitator 
in Monday's prisoner rebellion. He has become entirely submissive, blaming him- 
self for defying the guards and never once criticizing them for their abusive be- 
havior and nonstop hassling. (Before my eyes is a perfect example of mind control 
in action. The process exactly resembles American POWs in the Korean War con- 
fessing publicly to using germ warfare and other wrongdoings to their Chinese 
Communist captors.) 

Unexpectedly, Prescott interrupts this discussion of the prisoner's weak- 
nesses to ask assertively, "Do you use drugs?" 

When 1037 replies "No." he is allowed to continue apologizing until inter- 
rupted again. Prescott notices a black-and-blue bruise on the inmate's arm and 
asks how he got that big bruise. Although it came from one or more of the scuffles 
between him and the guards, prisoner 1037 denies the guard's part in restraining 
him or dragging him into solitary, saying that the guards had been as gentle as 
they could. By continually disobeying their orders, he says, he brought the bruise 
on himself. 

Carlo likes that mea culpa. "Keep up the good work, huh?" 

1037 says that he would consider parole even if it meant forfeiting his salary. 
(That seems rather extreme, given how much he has been through to have noth- 
ing to show for it.) Throughout he answers the Board's questions competently, 
but his depression hovers over him, as Prescott notes in his comments after the 
hearing. His state of mind is something his mother detected immediately during 
her visit with him and in her complaints to me when she came to the Superinten- 
dent's Office. It is as though he were trying to hang on as long as possible in order 
to prove his manliness — perhaps to his dad? He provides some interesting an- 
swers to questions about what he has gained from his experience in the prison, 
but most of them sound like superficial lines made up simply for the benefit of the 

The Good-Looking Kid Gets Trashed 

Last in line is the handsome young prisoner Hubbie-7258, whose appeal Curt 
reads with a bit of scorn: 

My first reason for parole is that my woman is going away on vacation 
very soon and I would like to see her a little bit more before she goes, see- 
ing that when she gets back is just about the same time I leave for college. 
If I get back only after the full two weeks here, I will only see her for a total 

The Power to Parole 


time of one-half hour. Here we can't say good-bye and talk, with the cor- 
rectional officer and the chaperone, the way we'd like to. Another reason 
is that I think that you have seen me and I know that I won't change. By 
change I mean breaking any of the rules set down for us, the prisoners, 
thus putting me out on parole would save my time and your expenditures. 
It is true that I did attempt an escape with former cellmate 8612, but ever 
since then, as I sat in my empty cell with no clothes on I knew that I 
shouldn't go against our correctional officers, so ever since then I have al- 
most exactly followed all the rules. Also, you will note that I have the best 
cell in this prison. 

Again, Guard Arnett's recommendations are at odds with the prisoner's 
statement: "7258 is a rebellious wise guy," is Guard Arnett's overall appraisal, 
which he follows up with this cynical condemnation: "He should stay here for the 
duration or until he rots, whichever comes later." 

Guard Markus is more sanguine: "I like 7258 and he is an all-right prisoner, 
but I don't feel he is any more entitled to parole than any of the other prisoners, 
and I am confident that the prisoner experience will have a healthy effect on his 
rather unruly natural character." 

"I also like 7258, almost as much as 8612 [David, our spy], but I don't think 
he should get parole. I won't go as far as Arnett does, but parole shouldn't be 
given," writes John Landry. 

As soon as the prisoner is unbagged, he beams his usual big toothy smile, 
which irritates Carlo enough to spur his jumping all over him. 

"As a matter of fact, this whole thing's funny to you. You're a 'rebellious wise 
guy,' as the guard's report accurately describes you. Are you the kind of person 
who doesn't care anything about your life?" 

As soon as he starts to answer, Prescott changes course to ask about his edu- 
cation. "I plan to start college in the fall at Oregon State U." Prescott turns to other 
Board members. "Here's what I say. You know what, education is a waste on some 
people. Some people shouldn't be compelled to go to college. They'd probably be 
happier as a mechanic or a drugstore salesman," waving his hand disdainfully at 
the prisoner. "Okay, let's move on. What did you do to get in here?" 

"Nothing, sir, but to sign up for an experiment. " 

This reality check might otherwise threaten to unravel the proceedings, but 
not with skipper Prescott at the helm: 

"So wise guy, you think this is just an experiment? " He takes back the steering 
wheel, pretending to examine the prisoner's dossier. Prescott notes matter-of- 
factly, "You were involved in a burglary." 

Prescott turns to ask Curt Banks whether it was first- or second-degree bur- 
glary; Curt nods "first." 

"First, huh, just as I thought." It is time to teach this Young Turk some of 


The Lucifer Effect 

life's lessons, starting with reminding him of what happens to prisoners who are 
caught in an escape attempt. You're eighteen years old, and look what you've 
done with your life! You sit here in front of us and tell us that you'd even be will- 
ing to forfeit compensation to get out of prison. Everywhere I look in this report I 
see the same thing: 'wise guy,' 'smart aleck,' 'opposed to any sort of authority'! 
Where did you go wrong?" 

After asking what his parents do, his religious background, and whether he 
goes to church regularly, Prescott is angered by the prisoner's statement that his 
religion is "nondenominational." He retorts, "You haven't even decided about 
something as important as that either." 

The angered Prescott gets up and storms out of the room for a few minutes, 
as the other Board members ask some standard questions about how he plans to 
behave in the next week if his parole request is not granted. 

Forfeiting Pay for Freedom 

This break in the highly tense action gives me time to realize the importance of 
Prisoner 1037's assertion of willing to forfeit his pay for parole. We need to for- 
malize that as a critical final question to be put to each of the prisoners. I tell Carlo 
to ask them, "Would you be willing to forfeit all the money you have earned as a 
prisoner if we were to parole you?" 

At first, Carlo poses a more extreme form of the question: "How much would 
you be willing to pay us to get out of here?" Confused, Prisoner 7258 says he 
won't pay money to be released. Carlo reframes the question, asking whether the 
prisoner would forfeit the money he's made so far. 

"Yes, indeed, sir, I would do that." 

Prisoner 7258 doesn't come across as particularly bright or self-aware. He 
also doesn't seem to take his entire situation as seriously as some of the other pris- 
oners do. He is the youngest, barely eighteen, and is quite immature in his atti- 
tudes and responses. Nevertheless, his detachment and sense of humor will serve 
him well in coping with most of what is in store for him and his peers in the week 

Next, we have each of the prisoners return to the parole chamber to answer 
that same final question about forfeiting their pay in exchange for parole. Pris- 
oner 1037, the rebellious birthday boy, says yes to forfeiting his money if paroled. 
The cooperative Prisoner 4325 answers in the affirmative as well. Only Prisoner 
340 1 , the defiant Asian American, would not want parole if it involved forfeiting 
his money, since he really needs it. 

In other words, three of these four young men want to be released so badly 
that they are willing to give up the hard-earned salary they have earned in their 
twenty-four-hour-a-day job as prisoners. What is remarkable to me is the power 
of the rhetorical frame in which this question is put. Recall that the primary mo- 
tivation of virtually all the volunteers was financial, the chance to make fifteen 
dollars a day for up to two weeks at a time when they had no other source of in- 

The Power to Parole 


come, just before school was to start in the fall. Now, despite all their suffering as 
prisoners, despite the physical and psychological abuse they have 

endless counts; the middle-of-the-night awakenings; the arbitrary, creative evil of 
some of the guards; the lack of privacy; the time spent in solitary; the nakedness; 
the chains; their bagged heads; the lousy food and minimal bedding — the major- 
ity of the prisoners are willing to leave without pay to get out of this place. 

Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that after saying that money was 
less important than their freedom, each prisoner passively submitted to the sys- 
tem, holding out his hands to be handcuffed, submitting to the bag being put back 
over his head, accepting the chain on his leg, and, like sheep, following the guard 
back down to that dreadful prison basement. During their Parole Board hearing, 
they were physically out of the prison, in the presence of some "civilians" who 
were not directly associated with their tormentors downstairs. Why did none of 
them say, "Since I do not want your money, I am free to quit this experiment and 
demand to be released now." We would have had to obey their request and termi- 
nate them at that moment. 

Yet none did. Not one prisoner later told us that he had even considered that 
he could quit the experiment because virtually all of them had stopped thinking 
of their experience as just an experiment. They felt trapped in a prison being run 
by psychologists, not by the State, as 4 1 6 had told us . What they had agreed to do 
was forfeit money they had earned as prisoners — if we chose to parole them. The 
power to free or bind was with the Parole Board, not in their personal decision to 
stop being a prisoner. If they were prisoners, only the Parole Board had the power 
to release them, but if they were, as indeed they were, experimental subjects, each 
of the students always held the power to stay or quit at any time. It was apparent 
that a mental switch had been thrown in their minds, from "now I am a paid ex- 
perimental volunteer with full civil rights" to "now I am a helpless prisoner at the 
mercy of an unjust authoritarian system." 

During the postmortem, the Board discussed the individual cases and the 
overall reactions of this first set of prisoners. There was a clear consensus that 
all the prisoners seemed nervous, edgy, and totally consumed by their role as pris- 

Prescott sensitively shares his real concerns for Prisoner 1037. He accurately 
detects a deep depression building in this once fearless rebel ringleader: "It's just a 
feeling that you get, living around people who jump over prison tiers to their 
deaths, or cut their wrists. Here's a guy who had himself together sufficiently to 
present himself to us, but there were lags between his answers. Then the last guy 
in, he's coherent, he knows what's happened, he still talks about 'an experiment,' 
but at the same time, he's willing to sit and talk about his father, he's willing to sit 
and talk about his feelings. He seemed unreal to me, and I'm basing that just on 
the feeling I had. The second guy, the Oriental [Asian-American] prisoner, he's a 
stone. To me, he was like a stone." 

In summation, Prescott offers the following advice: "I join the rest of the 


The Lucifer Effect 

group and propose letting a couple of prisoners out at different times, to try to get 
the prisoners trying to figure out what they have to begin to do in order to get out. 
Also, releasing a few prisoners soon would give some hope to the rest of them, and 
relieve some of their feelings of desperation." 

The consensus seems to be to release the first prisoner soon, big Jim-4325, 
and then number three, Rich- 1037, later on, perhaps replacing them with other 
standby prisoners. There are mixed feelings about whether 3401 or 7258 should 
be released next, or at all. 

What Have We Witnessed Here? 

Three general themes emerge from the first Parole Board hearings: the bound- 
aries between simulation and reality have been blurred; the prisoners' sub- 
servience and seriousness has steadily increased in response to the guards' 
ever-greater domination, and there has been a dramatic character transforma- 
tion in the performance of the Parole Board head, Carlo Prescott. 

Blurring the Line Between the Prison Experiment and the Reality of Imprisonment 

Impartial observers not knowing what had preceded this event might readily as- 
sume that they were witnessing an actual hearing of a local prison parole board 
in action. The strength and manifest reality of the dialectic at work between those 
imprisoned and society's appointed guardians of them was reflected in many 
ways, among them, the overall seriousness of the situation, the formality of the 
parole requests by inmates, the opposing challenges from their guards, the diverse 
composition of all the Parole Board members, the nature of the personal ques- 
tions put to the inmates, and accusations made against them — in short, the in- 
tense affective quality of the entire proceeding. The basis of this interaction is 
obvious in the Board's questions and prisoners' answers regarding "past convic- 
tions," the rehabilitative activities of attending classes or participating in therapy 
or vocational training sessions, arranging for legal representation, the status of 
their trial, and their future plans for becoming good citizens. 

It is as hard to realize that barely four days have passed in the lives of these 
student experimental volunteers as it is to imagine that their future as prisoners is 
little more than another week in the Stanford County Jail. Their captivity is not 
the many months or long years that the mock Parole Board seems to imply in its 
judgments. Role playing has become role internalization; the actors have as- 
sumed the characters and identities of their fictional roles. 

The Prisoners ' Subservience and Seriousness 

By this point, for the most part, the prisoners have slipped reluctantly, but finally 
compliantly, into their highly structured roles in our prison. They refer to them- 
selves by their identification numbers and answer immediately to questions put to 
their anonymous identities. They answer what should be ridiculous questions 

The Power to Parole 


with full seriousness, for example inquiries into the nature of their crimes and 
their rehabilitation efforts. With few exceptions, they have become completely 
subservient to the authority of the Parole Board as well as to the domination of 
the correctional officers and the system in general. Only Prisoner 7258 had the 
temerity to refer to his reason for being here as volunteering for an "experiment," 
but he quickly backed away from that assertion under Prescott's verbal assaults. 

The flippant style of some of their original parole requests, notably that of 
Prisoner 3401, the Asian- American student, withers under the negative judg- 
ment of the Board that such unacceptable behavior does not warrant release. 
Most of the prisoners seem to have completely accepted the premises of the situa- 
tion. They no longer object to or rebel against anything they are told or com- 
manded to do. They are like Method actors who continue to play their roles when 
offstage and off camera, and their role has come to consume their identity. It must 
be distressing to those who argue for innate human dignity to note the servility of 
the former prisoner rebels, the heroes of the uprisings, who have been reduced to 
beggars. No heroes are stepping out from this aggregation. 

That feisty Asian- American prisoner, Glenn-3401, had to be released some 
hours after his stressful Parole Board experience, when he developed a full-body 
rash. Student Health Services provided the appropriate medication, and he was 
sent home to consult his own physician. The rash was his body's way of getting 
his release, as was Doug-8612's raging loss of emotional control. 

The Dramatic Transformation of the Parole Board Head 

I had known Carlo Prescott for more than three months before this event and had 
interacted with him almost daily in person and in frequent and long phone calls. 
As we co-taught a six-week-long course on the psychology of imprisonment, I 
had seen him in action as an eloquent, vehement critic of the prison system, 
which he judged to be a fascist tool designed to oppress people of color. He was re- 
markably perceptive in the ways in which prisons and all other authoritarian sys- 
tems of control can change all those in their grip, both the imprisoned and their 
imprisoners. Indeed, during his Saturday-evening talk-show program on the 
local radio station KGO, Carlo frequently made his listeners aware of the failure of 
this antiquated, expensive institution that their tax dollars were wasted in con- 
tinuing to support. 

He had told me of the nightmares he would have anticipating the annual 
Parole Board hearings, in which an inmate has only a few minutes to present his 
appeal to several Board members, who do not seem to be paying any attention to 
him as they thumb through fat files while he pleads his case. Perhaps some of the 
files are not even his but are those of the next prisoner in line, and reading them 
now will save time. If you are asked questions about your conviction or anything 
negative in your rap sheet, you know immediately that parole will be delayed for 
at least another year because defending the past prevents you from envisioning 


The Lucifer Effect 

anything positive in your future. Carlo's tales enlightened me about the kind of 
rage that such arbitrary indifference generates in the vast majority of prisoners 
who are denied parole year after year, as he was.' 

However, what are the deeper lessons to be learned from such situations? Ad- 
mire power, detest weakness. Dominate, don't negotiate. Hit first when they turn 
the other cheek. The golden rule is for them, not for us. Authority rules, rules are 

These are also some of the lessons learned by boys of abusive fathers, half of 
whom are transformed into abusive fathers themselves, abusing their children, 
spouses, and parents. Perhaps half of them identify with the aggressor and per- 
petuate his violence, while the others learn to identify with the abused and reject 
aggression for compassion. However, research does not help us to predict which 
abused kids will later become abusers and which will turn out to be compassion- 
ate adults. 

Time Out for a Demonstration of Power Without Compassion 

I am reminded of the classic demonstration by an elementary school teacher, Jane 
Elliott, who taught her students the nature of prejudice and discrimination by ar- 
bitrarily relating the eye color of children in her classroom to high or low status. 
When those with blue eyes were associated with privilege, they readily assumed 
a dominant role over their brown-eyed peers, even abusing them verbally and 
physically. Moreover, their newly acquired status spilled over to enhance their 
cognitive functioning. When they were on top, the blue-eyes improved their daily 
math and spelling performances (statistically significant, as I documented with 
Elliott's original class data). Just as dramatically, test performance of the "infe- 
rior" brown-eyed children deteriorated. 

However, the most brilliant aspect of her classroom demonstration with 
these third-grade schoolchildren from Riceville, Iowa, was the status reversal the 
teacher generated the next day. Mrs. Elliott told the class she had erred. In fact, the 
opposite was true, she said; brown eyes were better than blue eyes! Here was 
the chance for the brown-eyed children, who had experienced the negative im- 
pact of being discriminated against, to show compassion now that they were on 
top of the heap. The new test scores reversed the superior performance of the 
haves and diminished the performance of the have-nots. But what about the les- 
son of compassion? Did the newly elevated brown-eyes understand the pain of 
the underdog, of those less fortunate, of those in a position of inferiority that they 
had personally experienced one brief day earlier? 

There was no carryover at all! The brown-eyes gave what they got. They dom- 
inated, they discriminated, and they abused their former blue-eyed abusers. 4 
Similarly, history is filled with accounts showing that many of those escaping re- 
ligious persecution show intolerance of people of other religions once they are 
safe and secure in their new power domain. 

The Power to Parole 


Back to Brown-Eyed Carlo 

This is a long side trip around the issue surrounding my colleague's dramatic 
transformation when he was put into the powerful position as head of the Parole 
Board. At first, he gave a truly outstanding improvisational performance, like a 
Charlie Parker solo. He improvised details of crimes, of the prisoners' past histo- 
ries, on the spot, out of the blue. He did so without hesitation, with a fluid cer- 
tainty. However, as time wore on, he seemed to embrace his new authority role 
with ever-increasing intensity and conviction. He was the head of the Stanford 
County Jail Parole Board, the authority whom inmates suddenly feared, to whom 
his peers deferred. Forgotten were the years of suffering he had endured as a 
brown-eyed inmate once he was granted the privileged position of seeing the 
world through the eyes of the all-powerful head of this Board. Carlo's statement 
to his colleagues at the end of this meeting showed the agony and disgust his 
transformation had instilled in him. He had become the oppressor. Later that 
night, over dinner, he confided that he had been sickened by what he had heard 
himself say and had felt when he was cloaked in his new role. 

I wondered if his reflections would cause him to show the positive effects of 
his acquired self-knowledge when he headed the next Parole Board meeting on 
Thursday. Would he show greater consideration and compassion for the new set 
of prisoners who would be pleading to him for parole? Or would the role remake 
the man? 


The next day brings four more prisoners before a reconstituted Parole Board. Ex- 
cept for Carlo, all the other members of the Board are newcomers. Craig Haney, 
who had to leave town for urgent family business in Philadelphia, is replaced by 
another social psychologist, Christina Maslach, who quietly observes the pro- 
ceedings with little apparent direct involvement — at this time. A secretary and 
two graduate students fill out the rest of this five-person Board. However, at the 
urging of the guards, in addition to considering parole requests, the Board also 
considers various disciplinary actions against the more serious troublemakers. 
Curt Banks continues in his role as sergeant-at-arms, and Warden David Jaffe also 
sits in to observe and comment when appropriate. Again I watch from behind the 
one-way viewing screen and record the proceedings for subsequent analysis on 
our Ampex video recorder. Another variation from yesterday is that we do not 
have the prisoners sit around the same table with the Board but separately in high 
chairs, on a pedestal, so to speak — all the better to observe them as in police detec- 
tive interrogations. 


The Lucifer Effect 

A Hunger Striker Strikes Out 

First up on the docket is Prisoner 4 16, recently admitted, who is still on a hunger 
strike. Curt Banks reads off the disciplinary charges that several guards have filed 
against him. Guard Arnett is especially angered at 416; he and the other guards 
are not sure what to make of him: "Here for such a short time, and he has been to- 
tally recalcitrant, disrupting all order and our routine." 

The prisoner immediately agrees that they are right; he will not dispute any 
of the charges. He insists on securing legal representation before he consents to 
eat anything served him in this prison. Prescott goes after his demand for "legal 
aid," forcing a clarification. 

Prisoner 416 replies in a strange fashion: "I'm in prison, for all practical pur- 
poses, because I signed a contract, which I'm not of legal age to sign." In other 
words, either we must get a lawyer to take his case and get him released, or he will 
continue with his hunger strike and get sick. Thus, he reasons, the prison authori- 
ties will be forced to release him. 

This scrawny youngster presents much the same face to the Board that he 
does to the guards: he is intelligent, self-determined, and strong willed in his opin- 
ions. However, his justification for disputing his imprisonment — that he was not 
of legal age to sign the research informed consent contract — seems strangely le- 
galistic and circumstantial for a person who has typically acted from ideological 
principles. Despite his disheveled, gaunt appearance, there is something about 
416's demeanor that does not elicit sympathy from anyone who interacts with 
him — neither the guards, the other prisoners, nor this board. He looks like a 
homeless street person who makes passersby feel more guilty than sympathetic. 

When Prescott asks on what charge 416 is in jail for, the prisoner responds, 
"There is no charge, I have not been charged. I was not arrested by the Palo Alto 

Incensed, Prescott asks if 4 1 6 is in jail by mistake, then. "I was a standby, I — " 
Prescott is fuming now and confused. I realize that I had not briefed him on how 
416 differed from all the others, as a newly admitted standby prisoner. 

"What are you, anyway, a philosophy major?" Carlo takes time to light his 
cigarette and perhaps plan a new line of attack. "You been philosophizing since 
you've been in here." 

When one of the secretaries on today's Board recommends exercise as a form 
of disciplinary action and 416 complains that he has been forced to undergo too 
much exercise, Prescott curtly replies, "He looks like a strong fellow, I think exer- 
cise would be ideal for him. " He looks over at Curt and Jaffe to put that on their ac- 
tion list. 

Finally, when asked the loaded question — Would he be willing to forfeit all 
the money he has earned as a prisoner if a parole were granted? — 416 immedi- 
ately and defiantly replies, "Yes, of course. Because I don't feel that the money is 
worth the time." 

The Power to Parole 


Carlo has had enough of him. "Take him away." 416 then does exactly what 
the others before him have done like automatons; without instruction he stands 
up, arms outstretched to be handcuffed, head bagged, and escorted away from 
these proceedings. 

Curiously, he does not demand that the Board act now to terminate his role 
as a reluctant student research volunteer. He doesn't want any money, so why 
does he not simply say, "I quit this experiment. You must give me my clothes and 
belongings, and I am out of here!" 

This prisoner's first name is Clay, but he will not be molded easily by anyone; 
he stands firmly by his principles and obstinately in the strategy he has advanced. 
Nevertheless, he has become too embedded in his prisoner identity to do the 
macroanalysis that should tell him he has now been given the keys to freedom by 
insisting to the Parole Board that he must be allowed to quit here and now while 
he is physically removed from the prison venue. However, he is now carrying that 
venue within his head. 

Addicts Are Easy Game 

Prisoner Paul-5704, next at bat, immediately complains about how he's missing 
the cigarette ration that he was promised for good behavior. His disciplinary 
charges by the guards include "Constantly and grossly insubordinate, with flares 
of violence and dark mood, and constantly tries to incite the other prisoners to in- 
subordination and general uncooperativeness." 

Prescott challenges his so-called good behavior, which will never get him an- 
other cigarette again. The prisoner answers in such a barely audible voice that 
Board members have to ask him to speak louder. When he is told that he acts 
badly even when he knows it will mean punishment for other prisoners, he again 
mumbles, staring toward the center of the table. 

"We've discussed that. . . well, if something happens, we'rejust going to fol- 
low through with it. . . if someone else was doing something, I'd go through pun- 
ishment for them." A Board member interrupts, "Have you gone through 
punishment for any of the other prisoners?" Paul-5704 responds yes, he has suf- 
fered for his comrades. 

Prescott loudly and mockingly declares, "You're a martyr, then, huh?" 

"Well, I guess we all are . . . , " 5704 says, again barely audible. 

"What have you got to say for yourself?" Prescott demands. 5704 responds, 
but again it is unintelligible. 

Recall that 5704, the tallest prisoner, had challenged many of the guards 
openly and been the insider in various escape attempts, rumors, and barricades. 
He was also the one who had written to his girlfriend expressing his pride at being 
elected head of the Stanford County Jail Prisoners' Grievance Committee. Fur- 
ther, it was this same 5704 who had volunteered for this experiment under false 
pretenses. He signed up with the intention of being a spy who was going to expose 
this research in articles he planned to write for several alternative, liberal, "un- 


The Lucifer Effect 

derground" newspapers, on the assumption that this experiment was no more 
than a government-supported project for learning how to deal with political dissi- 
dents. Where had all that former bravado gone? Why had he suddenly become in- 

Before us in this room sits a subdued, depressed young man. Prisoner 5704 
simply stares downward, nodding answers to the questions posed by the Parole 
Board, never making direct eye contact. 

"Yes, I would be willing to give up any pay I've earned to get paroled now, sir," 
he answers as loudly as he can muster strength to do. (The tally is now yes from 
five of the six prisoners.) 

I wonder how that dynamic, passionate, revolutionary spirit, so admirable in 
this young man, could have vanished so totally in such a short time? 

As an aside, we later learned that it was Paul-5704 who had gotten so deeply 
into his prisoner role that as the first part of his escape plan he had used his long, 
hard, guitar-player fingernails to unscrew one of the electrical power plates from 
the wall. He then used that plate to help remove the doorknob on his cell. He also 
used those tough nails to mark on the wall of his cell the passage of days of his 
confinement with notches next to M/ T /W/ Th/, so far. 

A Puzzling, Powerful Prisoner 

The next parole request comes from Prisoner Jerry-5486. He is even more puz- 
zling than those who appeared earlier. He shows an upbeat style, a sense of being 
able to cope quietly with whatever is coming his way. His physical robustness is in 
stark contrast to that of Prisoner 416 or some of the other slim prisoners, like 
Glenn-3401 . Surely there is the sense that he will endure the full two weeks with- 
out complaint. However, there is insincerity in his statements, and he has shown 
little overt support for any of his comrades in distress. In a few minutes here, 
5486 manages to antagonize Prescott as much as any other prisoner has. He an- 
swers immediately that he would not be willing to give up the pay he's earned so 
far in exchange for parole. 

The guards report that 5486 does not deserve parole consideration because 
"he made a joke out of letter writing, and for his general non-cooperation." When 
asked to explain his action, Prisoner 5486 responds that "I knew it wasn't a legit- 
imate letter ... it didn't seem to be ..." 

Guard Arnett, who has been standing aside silently observing the proceed- 
ings, can't help but interrupt: "Did the correctional officers ask you to write the let- 
ter?" 5486 responds affirmatively, as Guard Arnett continues, And you're saying 
that the correctional officers asked you to write a letter that was not legitimate?" 

5486 backtracks: "Well, maybe I chose the wrong word. . . " 

But Arnett does not let up. He reads his report to the Board: "5486 has been 
on a gradual downhill slide ... he has become something of a jokester and minor 

The Power to Parole 


"You find that funny?" Carlo challenges him. 

"Everybody [in the room] was smiling. I wasn't smiling till they smiled," 
5486 replies defensively. 

Carlo ominously interjects, "Everyone else can afford a smile — we're going 
home tonight." Still, he attempts to be less confrontational than the day before, 
and he asks a series of provocative questions: "If you were in my place, with the 
evidence I have, along with the report from staff, what would you do? How would 
you act? What would you do? What do you think is right for yourself?" 

The prisoner answers evasively but never fully addresses those difficult ques- 
tions. After a few more questions from the other members of the Board, an exas- 
perated Prescott dismisses him: "I think we've seen enough, I think we know what 
we need to do. I don't see any reason to waste our time." 

The prisoner is surprised at being dismissed so abruptly. It is apparent to him 
that he has created a bad impression on those he should have persuaded to sup- 
port his cause — if not for this parole, then for the next time the Board meets. He 
has not acted in his best interests at this time. Curt has the guard handcuff him, 
place the bag over his head, and sit him on the bench in the hallway, awaiting the 
disposition of the next and final case before the prisoners are hauled back down- 
stairs to resume their prison life. 

Sarge's Surface Tension 

The final inmate for the Board to evaluate is "Sarge," Prisoner 2093, who, true to 
type, sits upright in the high chair, chest out, head back, chin tucked in — a perfect 
military posture if I have ever seen one. He requests parole so that he can put his 
time "to more productive use," and he notes further that he has "followed all rules 
from Day One." Unlike most of his peers, 2093 would not give up the pay in ex- 
change for parole. 

"Were I to give up the pay I have earned thus far, it would be an even greater 
loss of five days of my life than it would have been otherwise." He adds that the 
relatively small pay hardly compensates for the time he has served. 

Prescott goes after him for not sounding "genuine," for having thought every- 
thing out in advance, for not being spontaneous, for using words to disguise his 
feelings. Sarge apologizes for giving that impression because he always means 
what he says and tries hard to articulate clearly what he means. That softens 
Carlo, who assures Sarge that he and the Board will consider his case very seri- 
ously and then commends him for his good work in the prison. 

Before ending the interview, Carlo asks Sarge why he didn't request parole 
the first time it was offered to all prisoners. Sarge explains, "I would have re- 
quested parole the first time only if not enough other prisoners requested it." He 
felt that other prisoners were having a harder time in the prison than he was, and 
he didn't want his request to be placed above another's. Carlo gently rebukes him 
for this show of shining nobility, which he thinks is a crass attempt to influence 


The Lucifer Effect 

the Board's judgment. Sarge's show of surprise makes it evident that he meant 
what he said and was not attempting to impress the Board or anyone else. 

This apparently intrigues Carlo, and he aims to learn about the young man's 
private life. Carlo asks about Sarge's family, his girlfriend, what kind of movies he 
likes, whether he takes time to buy an ice cream cone — all the little things that, 
taken together, give someone a unique identity. 

Sarge replies matter-of-factly that he doesn't have a girlfriend, seldom goes to 
movies, and that he likes ice cream but has not been able to afford to buy a cone 
recently. "AH I can say is that after having gone to summer quarter at Stanford and 
living in the back of my car, I had a little difficulty sleeping the first night because 
the bed was too soft here in prison, and also that I have been eating better in 
prison than I had for the past two months, and that I had more time to relax than 
I had the last two months. Thank you, sir." 

Wow! What a violation of expectation this young man offers us. His sense of 
personal pride and stocky build belie his having gone hungry all summer and not 
having had abed to sleep in while he attended summer school. That the horrid liv- 
ing conditions in our prison could be a better lifestyle for any college student 
comes as a shocker to us all. 

In one sense, Sarge seems to be the most one-dimensional, mindlessly obedi- 
ent prisoner of all, yet he is the most logical, thoughtful, and morally consistent 
prisoner of the group. It occurs to me that one problem this young man might 
have stems from his commitment to living by abstract principles and not knowing 
how to live effectively with other people or how to ask others for the support he 
needs, financial, personal, and emotional. He seems so tightly strung by this inner 
resolve and his outer military posturing that no one can really get access to his 
feelings. He may end up having a harder life than the rest of his fellows. 

Contrition Doesn't Cut the Mustard 

Just as the Board is preparing to end this session, Curt announces that Prisoner 
5486, the flippant one, wants to make an additional statement to the Board. Carlo 
nods okay. 

5486 contritely says that he didn't express what he really wanted to say, be- 
cause he hadn't had a chance to think about it fully. He's experienced a personal 
decline while in this prison, because at first he expected to go to a trial and now 
he's given up on his hope for justice. 

Guard Arnett, sitting behind him, relates a conversation they had during 
lunch today, in which 5486 said that his decline must have been because "he's 
fallen in with bad company." 

Carlo Prescott and the Board are obviously confused by this transaction. 
How does this statement promote his cause? 

Prescott is clearly upset at this display. He tells 5486 that if the Board were 
going to make any recommendations, "I would see to it personally that you were 
here until the last day. Nothing against you personally, but we're here to protect 

The Power to Parole 


society. And I don't think that you can go out and do a constructive job, do the 
kinds of things that will make you an addition to the community. You went out- 
side that door and you realized that you had talked to us like we were a couple of 
idiots, and you were dealing with cops or authority figures. You don't get along 
well with authority figures, do you? How do you get along with your folks? But 
what I'm trying to say is that you went outside the door and had a little time to 
think; now you're back in here trying to con us into looking at you with a differ- 
ent view. What real social consciousness do you have? What do you think you 
really owe society? I want to hear something real from you." (Carlo is back in 
Day 1 form!) 

The prisoner is taken aback by this frontal assault on his character, and he 
scurries to make amends: "I have a new teaching job. It's a worthwhile job, I feel." 

Prescott is not buying his story: "That may even make you more suspect. I 
don't think I'd want you to teach any of my youngsters. Not with your attitude, 
your gross immaturity, your indifference to responsibility. You can't even handle 
four days of prison without making yourself a nuisance. Then you tell me that 
you want to do a teaching job, do something that's really a privilege. It's a privi- 
lege to come into contact with decent people and have something to say to them. 
I don't know, you haven't convinced me. I just read your record for the first time, 
and you haven't showed me anything. Officer, take him away." 

Chained, bagged, and carted back down to the basement prison, the prisoner 
will have to put on a better show at the next parole hearing — assuming he is 
granted the privilege again. 

When a Paroled Prisoner Becomes the Chairman of the Parole Board 

Before we return to what has been happening down below on the Yard in our ab- 
sence during these two Parole Board time-aways, it is instructive to note the effect 
that this role-playing has had on our tough chairman of this 'Adult Authority 
Hearing." A month later, Carlo Prescott offered a tender personal declaration of 
the impact this experience had on him: 

"Whenever I came into the experiment, I invariably left with a feeling of 
depression — that's exactly how authentic it was. The experiment stopped being 
an experiment when people began to react to various kinds of things that hap- 
pened during the course of the experiment. I noted in prison, for example, that 
people who considered themselves guards had to conduct themselves in a certain 
way. They had to put across certain impressions, certain attitudes. Prisoners in 
other ways had their certain attitudes, certain impressions that they acted out — 
the same thing occurred here. 

"I can't begin to believe that an experiment permitted me, playing a board 
member, the chairman of the board — the Adult Authority Board — to say to one 
of the prisoners, 'How is it' — in the face of his arrogance and his defiant attitude — 
'how is it that Orientals seldom come to prison, seldom find themselves in this 
kind of a situation? What did you do?' 


The Lucifer Effect 

"It was at that particular point in the study that his whole orientation 
changed. He begin to react to me as an individual, he began to talk to me about 
his personal feelings. One man was so completely involved that he came back into 
the room as if he thought a second journey into the room to speak to the Adult 
Authority Board could result in his being paroled sooner." 

Carlo continues with this self-disclosure: "Well, as a former prisoner, I must 
admit that each time I came here, the frictions, suspicion, the antagonism ex- 
pressed as the men got into the roles . . . made me recognize the kind of deflated 
impression which came about as a result of the confinement. That's exactly what 
it was that induced in me a deep feeling of depression, as if I were back in a prison 
atmosphere. The whole thing was authentic, not make-believe at all. 

"[The prisoners] were reacting as human beings to a situation, however 
improvisational, that had become part of what they were experiencing at that 
particular time. I imagine that as such, it reflected the kind of metamorphosis 
that takes place in a prisoner's thinking. After all, he is completely aware of the 
things that are going on in the external world — the bridge building, the birth of 
children — they have absolutely nothing to do with him. For the first time he is 
totally alienated from the rest of society — from humanity, for that matter. 

"His fellows, in their funk and stink and their bitterness, become his com- 
rades, and all other things except for an occasional period when he can, as a re- 
sult of a visit, as a result of something happening, like going to the Parole Board, 
there's no reason to ever identify with where you came from. There is just that 
time, that instant. 

"... I wasn't surprised, nor was it a great pleasure to find my belief confirmed 
that 'people become the role they enact'; that guards become symbols of authority 
and cannot be challenged; and that there are no rules or no rights they are 
obliged to grant prisoners. This happens with prison guards, and this happens 
with college students playing at prison guards. The prisoner, on the other hand, 
who is left to consider his own situation in regard to how defiant he is, how effec- 
tive he is in keeping the experience away from him, comes face-to-face daily with 
his own helplessness. He has to correlate both his own hatred and the effective- 
ness of his defiance with the reality that regardless of how heroic or how coura- 
geous he sees himself at a certain time — he will still be counted and still be 
subjected to the rules and regulations of the prison.'" 

I think it is appropriate to end these deliberations with a similarly insightful 
passage from the letters of the political prisoner George Jackson, written a bit be- 
fore Carlo's statement. Recall that his lawyer wanted me to be an expert witness 
in his defense in the upcoming Soledad Brothers trial; however, Jackson was killed 
before I could do so, one day after our study ended. 

It is strange indeed that a man can find anything to laugh at in here. 
Everyone is locked up twenty-four hours a day. They have no past, no fu- 
ture, no goal other than the next meal. They're afraid, confused and con- 

The Power to Parole 


founded by a world they know that they did not make, that they feel they 
cannot change, so they make those loud noises so they won't hear what 
their mind is trying to tell them. They laugh to assure themselves and 
those around them that they are not afraid, sort of like the superstitious 
individual who will whistle or sing a happy number as he passes the grave- 


Thursday's Reality Confrontations 

Thursday's prison is fall of woe, yet we have miles to go before our exploration is 

In the middle of the night, I awake from a terrible nightmare in which I am 
hospitalized in a strange town after an auto accident. I am struggling to commu- 
nicate to the nurse that I had to go back to my work, but she cannot understand 
me. It is as though I were speaking in a foreign tongue. I scream out to let me go; 
"I have to be released." Instead, she puts me in restraints and tapes my mouth 
shut. In a kind of "lucid dream," where one is aware of being an actor in a dream 
while still dreaming, I envision that word of this incident gets back to the guards.' 
They are delighted that with the "bleeding-heart-liberal" superintendent out of 
the way, they are now totally free to deal with their "dangerous prisoners" in any 
way they feel necessary to maintain law and order. 

That is indeed a scary thought. Imagine what might happen in that base- 
ment dungeon if the guards could now do whatever they wanted to the prisoners. 
Imagine what they could do knowing there was no oversight, no one observing 
their secret games of domination and submission, no one to interfere with their 
own little "mind experiments," which they could play out as wit and whimsy dic- 
tated. Ijump off the convertible couch-bed in my upstairs office, wash, dress, and 
head back to the basement, glad to have survived that nightmare and to have my 
own freedom restored. 

The 2:30 A.M. count is in full swing once again. The seven weary prisoners, 
awakened once more by loud, shrilling whistles and billy clubs rattling the bars 
on their stinking, barren cells, are lined up against the wall. Guard Vandy is recit- 
ing selected rules and then testing the prisoners' memories of them by delivering 
assorted punishments for memory lapses. 

Guard Ceros would like the whole experience to be more like a tightly run 
military prison, so he has the prisoners march in place repeatedly, as though they 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


were in the Army. After a brief discussion, the two comrades decide that these 
young men need to be more fully disciplined and to understand the importance of 
making their beds in the best military fashion. The prisoners are ordered to strip 
their beds completely and then remake them with precision and stand by them for 
inspection. Naturally, as in good boot camp style, they all fail the inspection, must 
restrip their beds, remake their beds, refail inspection, and then repeat the inane 
process until the guards grow bored with that game. Guard Varish adds his cute 
two cents: "Okay, men, now that you have made your beds, you can sleep in 
them — until the next count." Remember, this is only day five of our experiment. 


Amid the 7 A.M. count and seemingly more carefree singing required of the pris- 
oners, violence suddenly erupts. Prisoner Paul-5704, exhausted from lack of 
sleep and irritated at having been singled out for abuse on almost all shifts, strikes 
back. He refuses to do sit-ups as commanded. Ceros insists that the others all con- 
tinue to do sit-ups without stopping until 5704 agrees to join in; only by his sub- 
mission can he stop their painful exercise. Prisoner 5704 does not take the bait. 

In an extended interview with Curt Banks, Paul-5704 described his side of 
this incident and the hostility festering within him: 

"I've got lousy thigh muscles, and I'm not supposed to stretch them. I told 
them that, but they said, 'shut up and do them anyway' 'Fuck you, you little 
punk,' I said, while still laying on the ground. As I was getting up to be put in the 


The Lucifer Effect 

Hole once again, He [Ceros] pushed me against the wall. We scuffled, pushing 
each other hard and yelling. I wanted to swing at him and hit him in the face, but 
to me that would represent fighting. . . . I'm a pacifist, you know, I just don't think 
it was in me. But I hurt my foot when we hassled, and insisted on seeing a doctor, 
but was put in the Hole instead. I did threaten to 'flatten' him when I got out of the 
Hole, so they kept me in there until all others had breakfast. When they finally let 
me out of solitary, I was furious and did try to strike that guard [Ceros], 

"It took two guards to restrain me. As they took me to a separate room for my 
solo breakfast, I complained about the pain in my foot and asked for a doctor. I did 
not let the guards examine my foot since what did they know about it? 

"I ate alone but did apologize to [Varnish], who was least hostile toward me. 
But the guy I really want to crack is 'John Wayne,' that guy from Atlanta. I'm a 
Buddhist, and he keeps calling me a Communist just to provoke me, and it does. I 
now think that the good treatment on the part of some guards, like big Landry 
[Geoff], is only because they were ordered to act that way." 2 

Guard John Landry notes in the daily log that 5704 has been the one most in 
trouble or "at least he was the most punished prisoner": 

After each episode he [5704] has shown considerable depression, but his 
spirit, which he calls 'the freak mentality,' continues to rise. He is one of 
the strongest willed prisoners. He also refused to wash lunch dishes, so I 
recommend giving him lousy dinners and curtailed smoking privileges — 
he has a heavy habit. 

Consider the following alternate and insightful perspective Guard Ceros had 
of this critical incident and of the psychology of imprisonment in general: 

One of the prisoners, 5704, was not cooperating at all, so I decided to put 
him in the Hole. By that time, it was regular routine. He reacted violently 
and I found that I had to defend myself, not as me, but as the guard. He 
hated me as the guard. He was reacting to the uniform; I felt that was the 
image he placed on me. I had no choice but to defend myself as a guard. I 
wondered why the other guards weren't rushing to help me. Everybody 
was stunned. 

I realized then that I was as much a prisoner as they were. I was just a 
reaction to their feelings. They had more of a choice in their actions. I 
don't think we did. We were both crushed by the situation of oppressive- 
ness, but we guards had the illusion of freedom. I did not see that at the 
time, or else I would have quit. We all went in as slaves to the money. The 
prisoners soon became slaves to us; we were still slaves to the money. I 
realized later that we were all slaves to something in this environment. 
Thinking of it as "just an experiment" meant no harm could be done with 
reality. That was the illusion of freedom. I knew I could quit, but I didn't, 
because I couldn't as a slave to something there.' 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


Prisoner Jim-4325 agreed about the slavish nature of his condition: "The 
worst thing about this experience is the super structured life and the absolute obe- 
dience one must pay to the guards. The humiliation of being almost slaves to the 
guards is the worst." 4 

However, Guard Ceros did not let his sense of being trapped in his role inter- 
fere with exerting the power of his position. He noted, "I enjoyed bothering them. 
It bothered me that 'Sarge,' 2093, was so very sheepish. I did make him polish 
and wax my boots seven times, and he never complained." 5 

In his reflections, Guard Vandy revealed the dehumanizing perception of the 
prisoners that had crept into his thinking about them: "Prisoners were very 
sheepish by Thursday, except for a brief scuffle between Ceros and 5704, which 
was a small incident of violence that I did not like whatsoever. I thought of them 
as sheep and I did not give a damn as to their condition."* 

In Guard Ceros's final evaluation report, he offered a different take on the 
emerging sense of dehumanization by the guards of the prisoners: 

There were a few times when I had forgotten the prisoners were peo- 
ple, but I always caught myself, realized that they were people. I simply 
thought of them as 'prisoners' losing touch with their humanity. This 
happened for short periods of time, usually when I was giving orders to 
them. I am tired and disgusted at times, this is usually the state of my 
mind. Also I make an actual try of my will to dehumanize them in order to 
make it easy for me. 7 

Our staff agree that of all the guards, the one who "goes by the book" most con- 
sistently is Varnish. He is one of the oldest guards, at twenty-four, like Arnett. Both 
of them are graduate students, so they should have a bit more maturity than the 
other guards, whose ages range from just eighteen for Ceros, Vandy, and J. Landry. 

Varnish's daily shift reports are the most detailed and lengthy, including ac- 
counts of individual incidents of prisoner subordination. Yet he rarely comments 
on what the guards were doing and there is no sense of the psychological forces at 
work in any of these reports. He punishes prisoners only for rule violations and 
never arbitrarily. Varnish's role-playing has become so fully internalized that he is 
the prison guard whenever he is in this prison setting. He is not dramatic and abu- 
sive as some others are, like Arnett and Hellmann. On the other hand, he is not 
trying to get the prisoners to like him, as others, such as Geoff Landry, do. He 
merely does his job as routinely and efficiently as possible. I see from his back- 
ground information that Varnish considers himself egotistical at times, with a 
streak of dogmatism on the side. 

"There was at times a distinct tendency to minimize effort by not harassing 
prisoners as much as we could have, " Varnish reported. 

The way in which roles can come to rule not only one's emotions but also 
one's reason is interestingly revealed in Varnish's self-reflective analysis after the 


The Lucifer Effect 

I started out in the experiment thinking that I would probably be able to 
act in a manner appropriate to the experiment, but as the experiment pro- 
gressed, I was rather surprised to find out that the feelings I had sought to 
impose on myself were beginning to take over. I was actually beginning to 
feel like a guard and had really thought I was incapable of this kind of be- 
havior. I was surprised — no, I was dismayed — to find out that I could really 
be a — uh — that I could act in a manner so absolutely unaccustomed to 
anything I would really dream of doing. And while I was doing it I didn't 
feel any regret, I didn't feel any guilt. It was only afterwards, when I began 
to reflect on what I had done, that this behavior began to dawn on me and 
I realized that this was a part of me I had not noticed before." 1 

Prisoner 5704 Earns More Tormenting 

Prisoner Paul-5704's assault on Ceros was the primary subject of talk in the 
guard station during the 10 A.M. transfer from the morning to the day shift, when 
they were taking off or putting on their uniforms to end a shift or start one. They 
agreed that he would need special attention and discipline since no such attack 
against guards could be tolerated. 

Prisoner 5704 was not included in the 11:30 A.M. count because he was 
chained to his bed in Cell 1. Guard Arnett ordered everyone else down for seventy 
push-ups as group punishment for 5704's insubordination. Although the prison- 
ers were getting weaker from their minimal diet and exhausted from lack of sleep, 
they were nevertheless able to perform this sizable number of push-ups — which I 
could not do when well fed and rested. They were getting into athletic condition 
reluctantly and miserably. 

Continuing the ironic theme music from the previous day, the prisoners were 
made to sing, loud and clear, "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and "Amazing 
Grace," mixed in with a choral round of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Shortly after 
he joined his fellows for this chorus, Prisoner Paul-5704 continued his verbal in- 
subordination, and once again he was thrown into the Hole. Screaming and curs- 
ing at the top of his lungs, he again kicked down the wooden partition that 
separated the two compartments of the Hole. The guards dragged him out, hand- 
cuffed him, chained both ankles together, and put him back into Cell 2 while they 
repaired the damage to the Hole. Solitary now had to have two separate cell units 
for whenever two prisoners had to be disciplined simultaneously. 

As inventively determined as real prisoners can be, 5704 somehow was able 
to take the hinge bolts off the door to his cell, thereby locking himself in and 
taunting the guards. Once again, the guards broke into his cell, and carted him 
back to the now-repaired Hole until he was taken to the Parole Board later that 
day for a disciplinary hearing. 

5704's riotous actions finally break through the appearance of equanimity 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


that Guard Arnett has carefully cultivated. As one of the older guards, a graduate 
student in sociology, who has tutored in three juvenile jails and who has been 
charged (and acquitted) for "illegal assembly" in a civil rights protest, Arnett has 
the most relevant experience for being a conscientious guard. He is, but without 
compassion for the prisoners, as he behaves with a completely professional de- 
meanor every moment he is on the Yard. He is as precise in delivering his verbal 
commands as he is in his controlled physical gestures. He has become a high- 
status authority figure, like a TV anchorman, with his unified movements of 
head, neck, and shoulders and his synchronized arm-wrist-hand gestures. Delib- 
erate in word and deed, Arnett conveys a sense of economy of involvement with 
the scene around him. It is as hard to imagine him being ruffled by anything, as it 
is to imagine anyone challenging him. 

I am a little surprised myself at the equanimity that I felt throughout. I felt 
angry only once for a slash when 5704 took the lock off his door and 
poked me in the stomach with my own stick (which I had just poked him 
with). At all other times, I felt quite relaxed. I never experienced any sense 
of power or elation when pushing people or ordering them about." 

In this prison setting, Arnett used his understanding of some social science 
research to his advantage: 

I was aware from my reading that boredom and other aspects of prison life 
can be exploited to make people feel disoriented by being impersonal, giv- 
ing boring work punishing all prisoners for bad behavior by individuals, 
demeaning perfect execution of trivial demands in exercise sessions. I was 
sensitive to the power of those in control of social settings and I tried to 
heighten alienation [of the prisoners] by using some of these techniques. 
I could use it only in a very limited way because I didn't want to be bru- 
tal. 10 

In challenging the early parole release for 5704, Arnett wrote to the Board, 
"I can hardly list all 5704's infractions at this time. He is constantly and grossly 
insubordinate, with flare ups of violence and extreme mood swings, and con- 
stantly tries to incite the other prisoners to insubordination and general unco- 
operativeness. He acts badly even when he knows punishment for the other 
prisoners will result. He should be dealt with harshly by the discipline com- 

Prisoner 416 Confronts the System with a Hunger Strike 

Prisoner 5704 wasn't the only disciplinary concern. The madness of this place, to 
which we have become accustomed over the few days since we began last Sunday, 
had also struck Prisoner 416 when he arrived yesterday as a replacement pris- 
oner for first-to-be-released prisoner Doug-8612. He could not believe what he 


The Lucifer Effect 

was witnessing and wanted to quit the experiment immediately. However, he was 
told by his cellmates that he could not quit. His cellmates passed along the false 
statement that Prisoner 8612 had asserted, that it was not possible to leave, that 
"They" would not allow anyone to leave before the time was up. I am reminded of 
the famous line from the song "Hotel California": "You can check out anytime 
you like, but you can never leave." 

Instead of challenging that false assertion, Prisoner 416 would use a passive 
means of escape. "I developed a plan," he later said. "I would insist on the loop- 
hole in my hastily prepared contract. But what force beyond pleading could I exert 
on this system? I could rebel as Paul-5704 has. But by using legal tactics to get 
out, my feelings were of secondary importance, though I followed them in terms 
of achieving my goal. Instead, I chose to exhaust the resources of this simulation 
by being impossible, by refusing all rewards and accepting their punishments. " (It 
is unlikely that 416 realized that he was adopting a strategy that organized labor 
has used in struggles against management, to "play by the rules," formally 
known as "work to rule," on every matter in order to expose inherent weaknesses 
in the system.") 

416 decided to go on a fast because, by refusing the food the guards offered, 
he would take away one source of their power over the prisoners. Looking at his 
skinny body, his muscle-free body, 135 pounds on a five-foot-eight frame, made 
me think that he already looked like a starvation victim. 

In some ways, Clay-416 was more powerfully impacted by his first day as 
a prisoner in the Stanford County Jail than anyone else was, as he told us in this 
personal, yet depersonalized analysis: 

"I began to feel that I was losing my identity. The person I call 'Clay,' the per- 
son who put me in this place, the person who volunteered to go into this prison — 
'cause it was a prison to me, it still is a prison to me — I don't look on it as an 
experiment or a simulation — it is a prison run by psychologists instead of run by 
the State. I began to feel that identity, the person I was, that decided to go to 
prison — was distant from me — was remote, until finally, I wasn't that. I was 
'416.' I was really my number, and 416 was going to have to decide what to do, 
and that was when I decided to fast. I decided to fast because that was the one re- 
ward the guards gave you. They always threatened they wouldn't let you eat, but 
they had to give you eats. And so I stopped eating. Then I had a sort of power over 
something because I found the one thing they couldn't crack me on. They were 
going to catch shit eventually if they didn't get me to eat. And so I was sort of hu- 
miliating them by being able to fast." 12 

He began by refusing to touch his lunch. Arnett reported that he overheard 
416 telling his cellmates that he intended not to eat until he got the legal consul- 
tation that he had been demanding. He said that "After about twelve hours I'll 
probably collapse, and then what can they do? They'll have to give in." Arnett 
found him nothing more than a "sassy and back talkin' " prisoner. He sees noth- 
ing noble in this hunger strike. 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


Here was a new prisoner embarking on a daring plan of disobedience, di- 
rectly challenging the guards' power. His act could potentially make him a nonvio- 
lent hero around whom the prisoners could rally, someone to rouse them from 
their mindlessly obedient stupor — like Mahatma Gandhi. By contrast, it is clear 
that the violence used by 5407 did not work in a place where the resources of 
power are so unbalanced in favor of the system. I was hoping that 416 would 
come up with another plan that would involve his cellmates and the others in 
communal disobedience, using a mass hunger strike as a tactic for remediation of 
their harsh treatment. Nevertheless, I worried that he was so internally focused 
that he had little awareness of the need to engage his fellows in fuller group oppo- 

Two More Prisoners Break Down 

It appeared that the problem caused by 5407 and 416 were the beginnings of a 
domino effect of confrontations. Prisoner 1037's mother had been right. Her son, 
Rich, had not looked good to her; now he did not look good to me. He had become 
increasingly depressed after his folks had left following visiting hours; he probably 
wished that they had insisted on taking him home with them. Instead of accept- 
ing his mother's accurate appraisal of his condition, Rich probably came to be- 
lieve that his masculinity was at stake. He wanted to prove that he could take it, 
"like a man." He couldn't. Just like his cellmates 8612 and 819 from the original 
rebellious Cell 2, 1037 displayed symptoms of extreme stress to such an extent 
that I had him taken to the quiet room outside the prison yard and told him that 
it would be best if he were paroled at this time. He was pleased and surprised at 
this good news. As I helped him change into his civilian clothes, he was still shaky. 
I told him he would get full pay for the entire experiment and that we would be in 
contact with him and all the other students soon to go over the results of the 
study, complete the final surveys, and give them their payment. 

Prisoner 1037 later said that the worst part of the experiment was the "time 
when the guards gave me the feeling that they were expressing their true inner 
feelings and not just the guard role they were playing. For example, there were 
some times during the exercise periods when we prisoners would be pushed to the 
point of real suffering. Some guards seemed to really enjoy our agony." " 

When his parents came to get him during visiting hours, the news of 1037's 
imminent parole did not go down well with Prisoner 4325, who was more 
stressed than any of us had realized. "Big Jim," as our research team referred to 
4325, seemed like a self-assured young man whose preselection assessment had 
indicated he was in the normal range on all measures. Nevertheless, on that after- 
noon he abruptly broke down. 

"When the appearance before the Parole Board came up, I immediately be- 
came hopeful of getting released. But I fell a long way down when Rich [1037] 
was paroled and I was not. That one act worked its way into me and brought 
about an even heavier feeling of desperation. I 'broke' as a result. I learned that 


The Lucifer Effect 

my emotions are much more present than I thought and realized what a great life 
I actually have. If prison is anything like what I went through here, I don't know 
how it could help anyone." 14 

I said the same things to him as I had said to 1037, namely, that we were 
going to parole him soon anyway for his good behavior, and that it was fine if he 
left sooner. I thanked him for his participation, told him I was sorry that it had 
been so tough on him, and invited him back soon to discuss what we found. I 
wanted to have all the students come back together to share their reactions after 
having had a bit of distance from this unusual experience. He gathered his be- 
longings and left quietly after indicating that he did not need to see a psychologi- 
cal counselor in Student Health Services. 

The Warden's Log noted, "4325 reacts badly and has to be released by 
5:30 P.M. because of severe reactions like those displayed by 819 [Stew] and 8612 
[Doug] before him." The log also adds the curious fact that there is no mention of 
4325's release by any of the prisoners or by any of the guards. Gone and forgot- 
ten. Rest in Peace. Apparently, by this time in the grueling test of endurance all 
that matters is who is present and accounted for — not who used to be. Out of 
sight is definitely out of mind. 

Letters Home from the Stanford Jail 

"Today when the prisoners were writing letters home explaining what a fine time 
they were having, as they have done before, prisoner 5486 [Jerry] could not get 
his letter right until the third attempt," reported Guard Markus. "This prisoner's 
behavior and respect for authority have been steadily deteriorating from the early 
days when he was in the model cell #3 . Since cell realignment, 5486 has been ad- 
versely affected by his new cellmates, and his behavior is now characterized by his 
new wise cracks, especially during counts. All of his behaviors have the sole pur- 
pose to undermine prison authority." 

Arnett's report also singled out this formerly model prisoner as a new prob- 
lem: "5486 has been in gradual downhill slide since being separated from 4325 
and 2093 in cell #3. He has become something of ajokester and minor cutup. 
This unacceptable behavior should be rectified before leading to committing 
something serious." 

The third guard on the day shift, John Landry, was similarly upset when 
" 5486 made a joke out of letter writing as a sign of his general non-cooperation. 
I recommend, as punishment, that he be made to write 15 letters of this type." 

Christina Joins the Mad Hatter's Party 

After Thursday's Parole Board and Disciplinary Board finished their deliberations, 
Carlo had to return to the city for urgent business. I was glad that I did not have to 
take him to dinner because I wanted to be present for the early visiting hours 
scheduled for right after the prisoners had their dinner. I had to apologize to 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


Mrs. Y., Prisoner 1037's mother, for my insensitive behavior the other night. 
However, I also wanted to have a more relaxed dinner that night with the new- 
comer to those deliberations, Christina Maslach. 

Christina had recently gotten her Ph.D. in social psychology at Stanford and 
was about to begin her career as an assistant professor at Berkeley, one of the first 
women to be hired by its Psychology faculty in decades. She was a diamond in the 
smooth — smart, serene, and self-contained. Hardworking and committed to a ca- 
reer as a research psychologist and educator, Christina had worked with me ear- 
lier as a teaching assistant and a valuable research collaborator as well as an 
informal editor of several of my books. 

I imagine that I would have been in love with her even if she had not been 
stunningly beautiful. For a poor kid from the Bronx, this elegant "California Girl" 
was a dream come true. However, I had to maintain a respectful distance so that 
my recommendations for her employment would not be tainted by my personal 
involvement. Now that she had gotten one of the best jobs in the country on her 
own merits, we could pursue our relationship openly. 

I had not told her much about this prison study because she and some other 
colleagues and graduate students were scheduled to do a thorough evaluation of 
the staff, prisoners, and guards the next day, Friday, about halfway through our 
scheduled two weeks. I had the sense that she had not been pleased by what she 
had seen and heard on the afternoon of the disciplinary deliberations. It was not 
anything she had said that disturbed me, but her saying nothing at all. We would 
discuss her reactions to Carlo and that scenario at our late dinner, as well as the 
kind of information I hoped she could obtain from her interviews on Friday. 

The Priest Follows Through on His Promise of Pastoral Aid 

The priest, who knows that this is just a simulated prison, has already done his 
part to add verisimilitude to this mock prison by his seriously intense role-playing 
the other day. Now he is forced to follow through on his priestly promise to give aid 
should anyone request his assistance. Sure enough, Father McDermott calls the 
mother of Hubbie-7258 and tells Mrs. Whittlow that her son needs legal repre- 
sentation if he wants to get out of the Stanford County Jail. Instead of just saying 
that if her son really wants out so badly, she will just take him back home with her 
when she sees him at the next Visitors' Night, Mrs. W. does what she is told. She 
calls her nephew Tim, a lawyer in the public defender's office. He in turn calls me, 
and we follow through on this script by agreeing to schedule his official lawyer's 
visit for Friday morning as one more realistic element in this experience that is 
growing ever more unreal. Our little drama, it would appear, is now being rewrit- 
ten by Franz Kafka as a surreal supplement to The Trial, or perhaps by Luigi Piran- 
dello as an update of his // fu Mattia Pascal, or his better-known play Six Characters 
in Search of an Author. 


The Lucifer Effect 

A Hero in the Rearview Mirror 

Sometimes it takes time and distance to realize the value of life's important 
lessons. Clay-416 might provide a counterpart of Marlon Brando's classic state- 
ment in On the Waterfront, "I coulda been a contender." Clay-416 might have said, 
"I coulda been a hero." However, in the heat of the moment he was thought to be 
just a "troublemaker" who caused hardships to his fellows — a rebel without an 
obvious cause. 

Heroism often requires social support. We typically celebrate heroic deeds of 
courageous individuals, but we do not do so if their actions have tangible imme- 
diate cost to the rest of us and we can't understand their motives. Such heroic 
seeds of resistance are best sown if all members of a community share a willing- 
ness to suffer for common values and goals. We have seen such an instance, for 
example, in Nelson Mandela's resistance to apartheid when he was imprisoned in 
South Africa. Networks of people in many European nations organized escapes 
and hideouts for Jews to survive the Nazi Holocaust. Hunger strikes were em- 
ployed for political purposes in the fasting to death of IRA leaders during their 
imprisonment in Belfast's Long Kesh prison. They and others from the Irish Na- 
tional Liberation Army used the hunger strike to gain attention to their status as 
political prisoners instead of being designated as ordinary criminals." More re- 
cently, hundreds of detainees being held in the U.S. military prison in Guanta- 
namo, Cuba, have gone on extended hunger strikes to protest the illegal and 
inhumane nature of their captivity and gain media attention to their cause. 

As for Clay-416, although he had a personal plan for effective resistance, he 
did not take time to share it with his cellmates or the other prisoners so that they 
could decide to join forces with him. Had he done so, his plan might have repre- 
sented a unifying principle rather than being dismissed as a personal pathology. It 
would have become a collective challenge to the evil system rather than a disposi- 
tional quirk. Perhaps because he came on the scene late, the other prisoners did 
not know him well enough or felt that he had not paid his dues as they had dur- 
ing those first hard days and nights. In any case, he was an "outsider," as Dave, 
our informer (replacement for 8612), had been. Though Dave had been quickly 
won over to the prisoners' side and aligned with their cause against the system 
that had hired him as its spy, not so with 416. However, I think it was also 4 1 6 ' s 
introverted style that was alienating his fellows. He was used to going it alone, liv- 
ing his life in his own complex mind and not in the realm of interpersonal connec- 
tions. Nevertheless, his defiance had a powerful impact on the thinking of at least 
one other prisoner, albeit after the prison experience was over. 

Jerry-5486, the prisoner recently designated a "smart aleck" by the Parole 
Board, was clearly influenced by 4 1 6 ' s heroism in the face of harsh abuse: "I was 
impressed with Clay's stoic determination and wish he would have been there from 
the beginning. He would have had a definite effect on the events that followed." 

In his later reflections, 5 4 8 6 added: 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


It was interesting that when Clay-416, who was the first real example of 
an obstinate person who had made up his mind when he absolutely re- 
fused to eat his sausages, people went against him. Earlier in the study, 
he would have been their ideal. Because a lot of people said they were 
going to be hard and fast and strike and all this, but when it finally came 
around to somebody having the guts to do that, they went against him. 
They wanted their own petty little comforts rather than see him hold on to 
his integrity. 

Jerry-5486 went on to note how unpleasant it was to witness the clash be- 
tween 416 and 7258, "between Hubbie and Clay over the sausages and the girl- 
friend." Later on, he had a better perspective on the true meaning of that 
confrontation, but he could not see the true nature of the event while it was un- 
folding and he could have taken action to intervene and defuse it: 

I realized that everybody was so far into the whole thing that they were 
suffering and making others suffer as well. It was too sad to see them go 
through it, especially since [Hubbie] didn't realize that, if he had not got- 
ten to see his girl, it would be 'John Wayne's' fault, not Clay's. [Hubbie] 
took the bait and let it tear him apart. " 

Meanwhile, back in solitary confinement, Clay-416 was coping in a kind of 
Buddhist style that would have made Paul-5704 proud of him, had he known 
that Clay was using such a Zen-like tactic for mental survival. 

"I meditated constantly. For example, when I was refusing dinner, the guard 
[Burdan] has all the prisoners out of their cells trying to convince me that visi- 
tors' day was going to be canceled and all this shit, which I calculated wouldn't 
happen. But I wasn't sure; I just had calculated that probability. I then continually 
stared at the droplet of water from the frankfurter that was glistening on my tin 
plate. I just stared at that droplet and focused myself first horizontally, then verti- 
cally. Nobody was then able to bother me. I had a religious experience in the 

This scrawny kid had found inner peace through his passive resistance, tak- 
ing control over his body and directing himself away from the guards. Clay-416 
offered this moving account of how he believed that he had won the contest of 
personal will against institutional power: 

"Once I refused food before the dominant evening guard, I became content 
for the first time here. It pleased me to infuriate [Guard Hellmann]. Upon being 
thrown in the Hole for the night, I was jubilant. Jubilant because I felt all but sure 
that I had exhausted his resources (to be used against him). I was astonished to 
realize too that I had privacy in solitary confinement — it was luxurious. His pun- 
ishment of the others did not concern me. I was gambling on the limits of the 
situation. I knew, I calculated, that visitors' privileges could not be removed. I pre- 
pared myself to stay in the Hole until probably ten the next morning. In the Hole 


The Lucifer Effect 

I was furthest from experiencing myself as 'Clay.' I was '416,' willing and proud 
even to be '416.' The number had an identity to me because 416 had found his 
own response to the situation. I felt no need to cling to the former manhood I had 
under my old name. In the Hole, there is a four-inch bar of light extending top to 
bottom, thrown by the crack between the closet doors. About the third hour 
there, I was filled with calm in regarding this bar of light. It is the most beautiful 
thing in the prison. I don't mean that only subjectively. It is, go look at it. When I 
was released around 1 1 P.M. and returned to a bed, I felt that I had won, that my 
will, so far, was stronger than the will of the situation as a whole. I slept well that 

The Sidekick Shows a Little Soul 

Curt Banks tells me that of all the guards the one he likes or respects least is Bur- 
dan because he is such a little toady, sucking up after Hellmann, living in the big 
guy's wake. I am feeling the same, although from a prisoner's point of view there 
were others who were much worse threats to their sanity and survival. One of the 
staff had overheard Burdan bragging that he had seduced his friend's wife last 
night. The three of them had been regular weekly bridge players, and although he 
had always been attracted to this twenty-eight-year-old mother of two children, 
he had never had the guts to move on her — until now. Perhaps it was his new- 
found sense of authority that gave him the courage to deceive and cuckold his old 
friend. If it were true, it was another reason not to like him. Then we found in his 
background information that his mother escaped from Nazi Germany, so we add 
some positive weight back into our evaluation of this complex young man. 

Burdan's shift report is an amazingly accurate depiction of official correc- 
tions staff behavior: 

We have a crisis in authority, this rebellious conduct [416's fasting] poten- 
tially undermines the complete control we have over the others. I have got- 
ten to know the idiosyncrasies of various numbers [interesting that he 
calls them "numbers"; a blatant deindividualization of the prisoners] ; I at- 
tempt to utilize this information only for harassment while inside the cell- 

He also points the finger at the lack of support he and the other guards were 
getting from our staff: "Real trouble started at dinner — we look to prison authority 
to find out how to handle this late revolt for the reason that we are worried about 
him not eating.... They are strangely absent." (We plead guilty to not providing 
oversight and training.) 

My negative view of Guard Burdan is tempered by what he did next. "I can't 
stand the idea of him [416] being in the Hole any longer," he says. "It seems dan- 
gerous [since the rules limit solitary to one hour] . I argue with Dave, and then 
quietly put the new prisoner, 416, back in his cell." He adds, "but with a touch of 
malice, I order him to take the sausages to bed with him. " 18 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


A validation of this positive take on Burdan comes from a comment by Jerry - 
5486, who was the only prisoner to volunteer to give up his blanket for Clay-416: 
"I was upset at John Wayne's ranting and raving. [Burdan] came over to my cell 
knowing I sympathized with Clay and said that he won't be kept in there all night. 
'We'll bring him out as soon as everyone is asleep,' he whispered to me, and then 
went back to pretending he was a hard guy. It was as if he needed to make some 
honest, sincere communication in the eye of the storm.'"* 

Not only was Jerry-5486 in 416's corner, but he also came to feel that the 
best thing about this whole experience was meeting Clay: "Seeing one guy who 
knew what he wanted and was willing to endure whatever necessary to get it. He 
was the only guy with anything at stake who didn't sell out, or plead, or crack up . " "' 

In that night's Shift Report, Burdan notes, "There is no solidarity between 
the remaining prisoners, with the exception of 5486 who has always demanded 
equal privileges for all." (I concur; that is one reason for respecting Jerry-5486 
more than any of the other prisoners.) 

This intense, extended experience is enriching my appreciation of the com- 
plexity of human nature because just when you think you understand someone, 
you realize you know only the smallest slice of their inner nature derived from a 
limited set of personal or mediated contacts. As I too come to respect Clay-416 for 
his willpower in the face of such strong opposition, I discover that he is not all 
Buddha. He tells us in his final interview what he thinks about the suffering his 
hunger strike caused the other prisoners: "If I am trying to get out and the guards 
create a situation where it is difficult on other people because I'm trying to get 
out, I don 'tgive a shit. " 

His friend Jerry-5486 provides a fascinating perspective on the complex 
mind games that he was playing — and losing — in this prison. 

More and more as the experiment went on, I could justify my actions by 
saying "It's only a game, and I know it and I can endure it easy enough, 
and they can't bother my mind, so I'll go through the actions." Which was 
fine for me. I was enjoying things, counting my money, and planning my 
escape. I felt my head was pretty together and they couldn't upset me, be- 
cause I was detached from it all, watching it happen. But I realize now that 
no matter how together I thought I was inside my head, my prison behav- 
ior was often less under my control than I realized. No matter how open, 
friendly and helpful I was with other prisoners I was still operating as an 
isolated, self-centered person, being rational rather than compassionate. I 
got along fine in my own detached way, but now I'm aware that frequently 
my actions hurt others. Instead of responding to their needs, I would as- 
sume that they were as detached as I and thereby rationalize my own self- 
ish behavior. 

The best example of this was when Clay [416] was in the closet with 
his sausages. . . ._Clay and I were friends, he knew I was on his side during 


The Lucifer Effect 

the fasting incident, and I felt I had helped him some at the supper table 
when the other prisoners were trying to make him eat. But when he went 
in the closet and we were told to yell things and pound on the door, I did it 
just like everyone else. I easily justified it by saying "It's just a game. Clay 
knows I'm on his side. My actions don't make any difference so I'll just 
keep humoring the guard." Later, I realized that the yelling and pounding 
was really hard on Clay. There I was tormenting the guy I liked most. And 
justifying it by saying "I'll go through the motions but they haven't got 
control of my mind." When what was really important was the other 
guy's mind. What was he thinking? How were my actions affecting him? I 
was blind to the consequences of my actions, and unconsciously assign- 
ing the responsibility for them to the guards. I had separated my mind 
from my actions. I probably would have done anything short of causing 
physical harm to a prisoner as long as I could shift the responsibility to the 

And so now I think, maybe you can't separate mind and actions as 
clearly as I did during the experiment. I prided myself on how unassailable 
my mind was — I didn't get upset, I didn't let them control my mind. But as 
I look back on the things I did it seems they had quite a strong, but subtle, 
control over my mind. !l 


The last toilet run of Thursday night started at 10 P.M. Christina had been work- 
ing at the library following her quiet stint earlier on the Parole and Disciplinary 
Board. She had come down to the prison for the first time to pick me up to drive 
over to the Town and Country Mall near campus for a late dinner at Stickney's 
Restaurant. I was in my Superintendent's Office going over some logistics for the 
next day's mass interviews. I saw her chatting with one of the guards, and when 
she finished, I motioned her in to have a seat near my desk. She later described her 
unusual encounter with that particular guard: 

In August of 1971, 1 had just completed my doctorate at Stanford Univer- 
sity, where I was the office mate of Craig Haney, and was preparing to start 
my new job as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of 
California, Berkeley. Relevant background also should include mention 
that I had recently gotten involved romantically with Phil Zimbardo, and 
we were even considering the possibility of marriage. Although I had 
heard from Phil and other colleagues about the plans for their prison sim- 
ulation study, I had not participated in either the preparatory work or the 
initial days of the actual simulation. Ordinarily I would have been more 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


interested and maybe become involved in some way, but I was in the 
process of moving, and my focus was on preparing for my first teaching 
job. However, I agreed when Phil asked me, as a favor, to help conduct 
some interviews with the study participants 

When I went downstairs to the basement location of the prison ... I 
then went to the other end of the hall, where the guards entered the yard; 
there was a room outside the yard entrance, which the guards used to rest 
and relax when not on duty or to change into or out of their uniforms at 
the start or end of their shifts. I talked to one of the guards there who was 
waiting to begin his shift. He was very pleasant, polite and friendly, surely 
a person anyone would consider a really nice guy. 

Later on, one of the research staff mentioned to me that I should take 
a look at the yard again, because the new late-night guard shift had come 
on, and this was the notorious "John Wayne" shift. John Wayne was the 
nickname for the guard who was the meanest and toughest of them all; 
his reputation had preceded him in various accounts I had heard. Of 
course, I was eager to see who he was and what he was doing that at- 
tracted so much attention. When I looked through the observation point, 
I was absolutely stunned to see that their John Wayne was the "really nice 
guy" with whom I had chatted earlier. Only now, he was transformed into 
someone else. He not only moved differently, but he talked differently — 
with a Southern accent. . . . He was yelling and cursing at the prisoners as 
he made them go through "the count," going out of his way to be rude and 
belligerent. It was an amazing transformation from the person I had just 
spoken to — a transformation that had taken place in minutes just by step- 
ping over the line from the outside world into that prison yard. With his 
military-style uniform, billy club in hand, and dark, silver-reflecting sun- 
glasses to hide his eyes . . . this guy was an all-business, no-nonsense, 
really mean prison guard." 

Just then, I watched the last toilet run chain gang parading past the open 
door of my Superintendent's Office. As usual, their ankle chains were linked from 
inmate to inmate; big paper bags covered their heads, each prisoner's arm hold- 
ing on to the shoulder of the one before him. A guard, big Geoff Landry, led the 

"Chris, look at this!" I exclaimed. She looked up, then right down. 

"Did you see that? What do you think?" 

"I already saw it." And she looked away again. 

I was shocked by her seeming indifference. 

"What do you mean? Don't you understand that this is a crucible of human 
behavior, we are seeing things no one has witnessed before in such a situation. 
What is the matter with you?" Curt and Jaffe also joined me against her. 


The Lucifer Effect 

She couldn't reply because she was so emotionally distressed. Tears ran down 
her cheeks. "I'm leaving. Forget dinner. I'm going home." 

I ran out after her, and we argued on the front steps of Jordan Hall, home of 
the Psychology Department. I challenged whether she could ever be a good re- 
searcher if she was going to get so emotional from a research procedure. I told her 
that dozens of people had come down to this prison and no one had reacted as she 
had. She was furious. She didn't care if everyone in the world thought that what 
I was doing was okay. It was simply wrong. Boys were suffering. As principal 
investigator, I was personally responsible for their suffering. They were not prison- 
ers, not experimental subjects, but boys, young men, who were being dehuman- 
ized and humiliated by other boys who had lost their moral compass in this 

Her recollection of this intense confrontation is filled with gems of wisdom 
and compassion, but at that time, it was a slap in my face, the wake-up call from 
the nightmare that I had been living day and night for the past week. 

Christina recollects: 

At around 1 1 P.M., the prisoners were being taken to the toilet prior to 
going to bed. The toilet was outside the confines of the prison yard, and 
this had posed a problem for the researchers, who wanted the prisoners to 
be 'in prison' 24 hours a day (just as in a real prison). They did not want 
the prisoners to see people and places in the outside world, which would 
have broken the total environment they were trying to create. So the rou- 
tine for the bathroom runs was to put paper bags over the prisoners' heads 
so they couldn't see anything, chain them together in a line, and lead 
them down the hall into, around, and out of a boiler room and then to the 
bathroom and back. It also gave the prisoners an illusion of a great dis- 
tance between the yard and the toilet, which was in fact only in a hallway 
around the corner. 

Christina continues her recollection of that fateful night's reality confronta- 

When the bathroom run took place that Thursday evening, Phil excitedly 
told me to look up from some report I had been reading: "Quick quick — 
look at what's happening now!" I looked at the line of hooded, shuffling, 
chained prisoners, with guards shouting orders at them — and then 
quickly averted my gaze. I was overwhelmed by a chilling, sickening feel- 
ing. 'Do you see that? Come on, look — it's amazing stuff!' I couldn't bear to 
look again, so I snapped back with, "I already saw it!" That led to a bit of a 
tirade by Phil (and other staff there) about what was the matter with me. 
Here was fascinating human behavior unfolding, and I, a psychologist, 
couldn't even look at it? They couldn't believe my reaction, which they 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


may have taken to be a lack of interest. Their comments and teasing made 
me feel weak and stupid — the out-of-place woman in this male world — in 
addition to already feeling sick to my stomach by the sight of these sad 
boys so totally dehumanized. 

She recalls our clash and its resolution: 

A short while later, after we had left the prison setting, Phil asked me what 
1 thought about the entire study. I'm sure he expected some sort of great 
intellectual discussion about the research and the events we had just wit- 
nessed. Instead, what he got was an incredibly emotional outburst from 
me (I am usually a rather contained person). I was angry and frightened 
and in tears. I said something like, 

"What you are doing to those boys is a terrible thing!" 

What followed was a heated argument between us. That was espe- 
cially scary for me, because Phil seemed to be so different from the man 
I thought I knew, someone who loves students and cares for them in ways 
that were already legendary at the university. He was not the same man 
that I had come to love, someone who is gentle and sensitive to the needs 
of others and surely to mine. We had never had an argument before of this 
intensity. Instead of being close and in tune with each other, we seemed to 
be on opposite sides of some great chasm. Somehow, the transformation in 
Phil (and in me as well) and the threat to our relationship was unexpected 
and shocking. I don't remember how long the fight went on, but I felt it 
was too long and too traumatic. 

What I do know is that eventually Phil acknowledged what I was say- 
ing, apologized for his treatment of me, and realized what had been gradu- 
ally happening to him and everyone else in the study: that they had all 
internalized a set of destructive prison values that distanced them from 
their own humanitarian values. And at that point, he owned up to his re- 
sponsibility as creator of this prison and made the decision to call the ex- 
periment to a halt. By then it was well past midnight, so he decided to end 
it the next morning, after contacting all the previously released prisoners, 
and calling in all the guard shifts for a full round of debriefings of guards, 
prisoners, and then everyone together. A great weight was lifted from 
him, from me, and from our personal relationship." 


I returned to the dungeon relieved and even exhilarated by the decision to abort 
the mission. I couldn't wait to share the news with Curt Banks, who had done 
yeoman's duty servicing the video patrol at various times of the day and night, 
despite having a family to tend to as well. He too was delighted and told me that 


The Lucifer Effect 

he was going to recommend ending the study as soon as possible after what he 
had witnessed while I was gone. We were sorry Craig was not here tonight to 
share our end-game joy. 

The calm demeanor displayed by Clay-416, after what should have been a 
stressful ordeal, has angered Hellmann. He cascades into a 1 A.M. count to end all 
counts. The sad, dwindling cadre of only five remaining prisoners (416, 2093, 
5486, 5704, and 7258) wearily lines up against the wall to recite their numbers, 
rules, and songs. No matter how well they do their chores, someone is punished 
in various ways. They are yelled at, cursed, and made to say abusive things to 
each other. "Tell him he's a prick!" yells Hellman, and one prisoner turns to say 
that to the next. Then the sexual harassment that started to bubble up last night 
resumes as testosterone flows freely in every direction. 

Hellman shouts out to all of them, "See that hole in the ground? Now do 
twenty-five push-ups,/i/cfa'«g that hole! You hear me!" One after another, the pris- 
oners obey as Burdan shoves them down to do their duty. 

After a brief consultation between John Wayne and his little sidekick, Bur- 
dan, a new sexual game is devised. "Okay, now pay attention. You three are going 
to be female camels. Get over here and bend over touching your hands to the 
floor." (When they do, their naked butts are exposed since they are wearing no 
underwear beneath their smock-dresses.) Hellmann continues with obvious glee, 
"Now you two, you're male camels. Stand behind the female camels and hump 

Burdan giggles at this double entendre. Although their bodies never touch, 
the helpless prisoners are simulating sodomy by making thrusting motions of 
humping. They are dismissed back to their cells as the guards retreat to their 
quarters, clearly feeling that they have earned their night's salary. My nightmare 
from last night is coming true. I am glad that now I can control it by ending it all 

It is hard to imagine that such sexual humiliation could happen in only five 
days, when the young men all know that this is a simulated prison experiment. 
Moreover, initially they all recognized that the "others" were also college students 
like themselves. Given that they were all randomly assigned to play these con- 
trasting roles, there were no inherent differences between the two categories. 
They all began the experience as seemingly good people. Those who were guards 
knew that but for the random flip of a coin they could have been wearing the pris- 
oner smocks and been controlled by those they were now abusing. They also 
knew that the prisoners had done nothing criminally wrong to deserve their 
lowly status. Yet, some guards have transformed into perpetrators of evil, and 
other guards have become passive contributors to the evil through their inaction. 
Still other normal, healthy young men as prisoners have broken down under 
the situational pressures, while the remaining surviving prisoners have become 
zombie-like followers." 

Thursday's Reality Confrontations 


The power of this situation ran swiftly and deeply through most of those 
on this exploratory ship of human nature. Only a few were able to resist the 
situational temptations to yield to power and dominance while maintaining 
some semblance of morality and decency. Obviously, I was not among that noble 


Friday's Fade to Black 

We have so much to do to take down our prison in a matter of hours. Curt, Jaffe, 
and I are already exhausted from the hectic day and night we have just endured. 
In addition, in the middle of the night we have to decide on all the arrangements 
for debriefing sessions, final evaluations, and disbursement of payments and per- 
sonal belongings, as well as cancellation of afternoon visits from colleagues who 
had planned to help us interview everyone connected with this study. We also 
have to cancel various arrangements with the cafeteria food service, return the 
rented cots and handcuffs to the campus police, and more. 

We know that we each have to do double duty, monitoring the Yard action, 
taking short catnaps, and laying out the final day's logistics. We will announce 
the end of the study immediately after the public defender's visit. It was already 
scheduled for the morning, and it would be an appropriate event around which to 
wrap up the whole experience. We decide not to tell the guards before informing 
the prisoners of the good news from me directly. I anticipate that the guards will 
be angry to learn that the study is being terminated prematurely, especially now, 
when they believe that they are in total control and are anticipating an easy week 
ahead, with some new replacements. They have learned how to be "guards." Ob- 
viously, their learning curve has peaked. 

Jaffe will contact the five prisoners who had been released earlier and invite 
them back around noontime to share in the debriefing and get their full week's 
pay. I have to ask all the guard shifts either to come by at noon or to hang around 
until then for a "special event." Having anticipated that there were supposed to be 
full staff interviews by outsiders on Friday, the guards expect some new element 
to be added, but not this abrupt end to their jobs. 

If all goes as planned, there will be an hour of prisoner debriefing around one 
o'clock, then the same for the guards for an hour, and finally all the guards and 
prisoners will come together for a full encounter. While each group is engaged, 

Friday's Fade to Black 


the other group will complete our final evaluation forms, be paid, and have the 
opportunity either to keep their uniforms as souvenirs or to turn them in. If they 
wish, they can also take the various signs we posted in the Yard and on the Hole. 
We also have to arrange a big farewell lunch for everyone and make arrange- 
ments for them all to return soon to view selected videos and discuss their reac- 
tions from a more detached perspective. 

Before taking my nap on the convertible couch in my upstairs professor's 
office, where I have been sleeping fitfully for most of the week, I tell the morning 
shift guards to let the prisoners sleep through the night and to minimize any fur- 
ther hostility against the prisoners. They shrug their shoulders and nod, as 
though Dad were telling them not to have fun on the playground. 


For the first time in a week, the prisoners have been allowed to sleep for nearly six 
unbroken hours. The accrued interest on their sleep debt must have been enor- 
mous. It is hard to determine the effects on their moods and their thinking that 
was caused by having their sleeping and dreaming disrupted so often every night. 
It was probably considerable. The emotional breakdown of some of the early- 
released prisoners may have been amplified by their sleep disturbances. 

The 7:05 A.M. count lasts only ten minutes. Numbers are called out and 
other innocuous rituals observed. A good hot breakfast is served to the final five 
survivors. As might have been expected, Clay-416 refuses to eat any breakfast 
food, even when the other prisoners gently encourage him to do so. 

Despite my instructions to go easy on the prisoners, the guards go ballistic at 
Clay's continued insubordination. "Everyone down for fifty push-ups if 416 don't 
eat his breakfast. " Clay-416 does not budge but just stares down at his food plate. 
Vandy and Ceros try to force-feed him, stuffing food into his mouth as he spits it 
out. They enlist 5704 and 2093 to help them, but to no avail. Clay-416 is put 
back into his cell and forced to "make love" to his dinner sausages. Ceros orders 
him to caress them, to hug them, and then to kiss them. Clay-416 does all that. 
Yet he is true to his word and never eats a single bite of them. 

Guard Vandy is upset at 416's defiance and also at his buddy's meanspirited- 
ness. In his retrospective diary, Vandy said, "When 416 refused to eat I was once 
again angered specifically, since there was no way to force the food down his 
throat, even though we let some other prisoners try. Andre [Ceros] made the pris- 
oner hug and kiss and caress a day-old sausage after being made to sleep with it. I 
thought this was uncalled for. I would never ever make the prisoner do this." 1 

What does Guard Ceros have to say about his own behavior? His retrospective 
diary noted, "I decided to force feed him, but he wouldn't eat. I let the food slide 
down his face. I didn't believe it was me doing it. I hated myself for making him 
eat. I hated him for not eating. I hated the reality of human behavior." 2 

The day shift came on at ten as usual. I told the lead guard, Arnett, to keep it 


The Lucifer Effect 

cool and mellow in light of the coming legal representation. His day shift critical 
incident report indicated that Clay-416 was undergoing some strange changes in 
spite of his Zen meditation and earlier surface calm. Arnett's incident report 

4 1 6 is very jumpy. He jerked as I took the bag off his head for the toilet run. 
Had to pull him along when leading him to and from the bathroom, even 
though I told him I was not going to run him into anything [which the 
guards often did to prisoners for spite]. He was very nervous about being 
punished. I held his sausages when he went to the toilet. He tried to get me 
to give him back his sausages since another guard had ordered him to al- 
ways have them.'" 


I meet briefly with Tim B., a local lawyer working in the public defender's office. 
He is curious and skeptical about this whole affair. He has reluctantly given up his 
valuable time only because his aunt had asked him as a personal favor to check on 
his cousin. I describe the main features of the study and how serious it had be- 
come. I invite him to treat the matter exactly as he would if he had been called 
in to represent a group of real inmates. He agrees, and meets first with cousin 
Hubbie-7258 alone and then with all the prisoners. He allows us secretly to 
videotape the session in the same laboratory room on the first floor where the 
Parole Board had met. 

The level of formality between these two kin surprises me. There is no hint of 
any previous relationship, if any existed. Maybe it was an Anglo thing, but I had 
expected at least a hug, not a formal handshake and "It's good to see you again." 
Attorney Tim goes through a standard list of items in a businesslike manner. He 
reads from a prepared list the categories of concern, stopping after each one to 
elicit the prisoner's responses, notes them, usually without comment, and moves 
on to the next in order: 

Informed of rights upon arrest? 
Harassment by guards? 
Nature of any guard abuse? 
Under pressure, mentally distraught? 
Size and condition of cell? 
Requests that have been denied? 
Warden's behavior that was unacceptable? 
Issues about bail? 

Hubbie-7258 answers the questions in a good-humored way. I think he is as- 
suming that his cousin was going through this standard routine prior to escorting 

Friday's Fade to Black 


him out of the jail. The prisoner tells his public defender that they have been told 
that there is no way for them to leave the prison, no way to break the contract. 
The PD reminds him that if the original contract were based on monetary return 
for services, by his being willing to forfeit that fee the contract would be null and 
void. "Yes, I told them that at the Parole Board hearing, but it did no good, I'm still 
here." 4 In listing his complaints, Hubbie-7258 makes it a point to note that Pris- 
oner 416's troublemaking behavior had made them all mad. 

The guards escort the remaining prisoners into the interview room, with 
bags over their heads as usual. The guards are joking as they remove the hoods. 
They leave, but I remain seated in the rear. The PD runs through the same set of 
questions as with Hubbie, inviting any of the prisoners to reply with their com- 
plaints as appropriate. 

Clay-416 leads off, complaining first about the Parole Board pressuring him 
to plead guilty to the charges of his arrest, which he had refused to do because he 
was never officially charged. His fasting was, in part, a way to call attention to his 
illegal imprisonment given that he was being held without charges. 

(Again this young man continued to confound me; clearly, he was function- 
ing at multiple, incompatible levels. He was dealing with the whole experience in 
purely legalistic terms, mixing an experimental services contract with prisoner's 
rights and corrections formalities, not to mention a certain "new age" mystical 

Clay seems desperate to talk to someone who would actually listen to him. 
"Certain guards, who will go unnamed," he says, "misbehaved toward me up to 
the level of injurious behavior." He is willing to file an official complaint against 
them, if necessary. "Those guards also arranged for the other prisoners to be set 
against me by allegedly making my fasting a condition for their not getting visi- 
tors," he nods toward Hubbie-7258, who sheepishly looks the other way. 'And I 
was frightened when they put me in the Hole and had the other prisoners bang 
against the door. Their own rule against violence was set, but I was afraid it would 
soon be overstepped." 

Sarge-2093 speaks up next, describing some of the attempts various guards 
made to harass him, but he is proud to report that they had been unsuccessful. He 
then gives a precise clinical description and demonstration of when a particular 
guard had ordered him to do many push-ups — with two other prisoners sitting on 
his back. 

The public defender is startled by that account, duly noting it down with a 
frown. Next, tall Paul-5704 complains about the guards manipulating him by 
using his smoking habit against him. Good guy Jerry-5486 complains at a less 
personal, more general level of the inadequate diet and missed meals, the exhaus- 
tion from endless middle-of-the-night counts, the out-of-control behavior of some 
guards, and the lack of supervision by the senior staff. I wince as he turns to look 
directly at me, but he was right on target: I was guilty. 

When the public defender completes his note taking, he thanks them for this 


The Lucifer Effect 

information, and says he would file a formal report on Monday and try to arrange 
for their bail. As he rises to leave, Hubbie-7258 loses it: "You can't go away and 
leave us here! We want to leave now with you. We can't stand another week or 
even weekend. I thought you were going to arrange for me, for us, to be bailed out 
now. Please!" Tim B. is taken aback by this sudden emotional outburst. He ex- 
plains in a most formal way what his job entails, what its limits are, and how he 
could help them but is powerless to take action there and then. The five survivors 
appear to hit bottom at that point; their high hopes dashed by legal nonsense. 

Tim B.'s reactions to this unique experience, conveyed to me in a letter 
shortly afterward, are informative: 

On the Failure of the Prisoners to Demand Legal Rights 

. .. [A]nother possible explanation of why the prisoners failed to request 
legal advice is that, as white middle-class Americans, they may not have 
ever envisioned the possibility that they would ever be thrust into the 
criminal arena, where their rights would be of paramount importance. 
Finding themselves in that position, they were disarmed of the ability to 
objectively appraise the situation and act as they otherwise knew they 

On the Power of This Situation to Distort Reality 

. .. The classical devaluation of money compared to such things as free- 
dom and locomotion was clearly evident (in the activities which I wit- 
nessed). You will remember the great anticipation of release caused by my 
explanation of the bail offer. The reality of their imprisonment appeared to 
be quite penetrating even though they were intellectually aware that they 
were only involved in an experiment. Clearly confinement in itself seems 
to be painful regardless whether for legal reasons or otherwise.' 


The public defender's words darken the prisoners' hopes. A palpable cloak of 
gloom prevails over the sullen inmates. The public defender shakes their limp 
hands in turn as he leaves the room. I ask him to wait outside for me. Then I move 
to the head of the table and ask the prisoners to pay attention to what I am going 
to say next. They hardly have sufficient motivation left to pay attention to any- 
thing, now that their hopes for a quick dismissal have been dashed by the lawyer's 
officious reaction to their plight. 

"I have something important to tell you, so please listen carefully: The experi- 
ment is over. You are free to leave today. " 

There is no immediate reaction, no change in their facial expressions or body 

Friday's Fade to Black 


language. I have the sense that they are confused, skeptical, maybe even suspi- 
cious, and feel that this is another test of their reactions. I continue slowly and 
as clearly as possible, "I and the rest of the research staff have decided to termi- 
nate the experiment as of this moment. The study is officially over and the Stan- 
ford County Jail is closed. We all thank you for your important role in this study, 

Cheers replace the gloom. Hugs, slaps on backs, and wide smiles break 
through on those all-too-long-grim faces. Euphoria reverberates in Jordan Hall. It 
is a joyful moment for me as well to be able to liberate these survivors from their 
imprisonment and to give up my role as prison superintendent once and for all. 


There are few moments in my life that have given me more personal pleasure 
than being able to say those few words of liberation and to share in that total ela- 
tion. I was overcome by the aphrodisiac of positive power, of being able to do 
something, to say something, that had such an unconditionally joyful impact on 
other people. Then and there I vowed to use whatever power that I had for good 
and against evil, to promote what is best in people, to work to free people from 
their self-imposed prisons, and to work against systems that pervert the promise 
of human happiness and justice. 

The negative power on which I had been running for the past week, as super- 
intendent of this mock prison, had blinded me to the reality of the destructive 
impact of the System that I was sustaining. Moreover, the myopic focus of a prin- 
cipal research investigator similarly distorted my judgment about the need to ter- 
minate the experiment much earlier, perhaps as soon as the second normal, 
healthy participant suffered an emotional breakdown. While I was focused on the 
abstract conceptual issue, the power of the behavioral situation versus the power 
of individual dispositions, I had missed seeing the all-encompassing power of the 
System that I had helped create and sustain. 

Yes, indeed, Christina Maslach, it was terrible what I was allowing to be done to 
those innocent boys, not through any direct abuse but through my failure to stop 
abuse and my support of a system of arbitrary rules, regulations, and procedures 
that facilitated abuse. I was the "Iceman" in that hot house of inhumanity. 

The System includes the Situation, but it is more enduring, more widespread, 
involving extensive networks of people, their expectations, norms, policies, and, 
perhaps, laws. Overtime, Systems come to have a historical foundation and some- 
times also a political and economic power structure that governs and directs the 
behavior of many people within its sphere of influence. Systems are the engines 
that run situations that create behavioral contexts that influence the human ac- 
tion of those under their control. At some point, the System may become an 
autonomous entity, independent of those who initially started it or even of those 


The Lucifer Effect 

in apparent authority within its power structure. Each System comes to develop a 
culture of its own, as many Systems collectively come to contribute to the culture 
of a society. 

While the Situation surely brought out the worst in many of these student 
volunteers, transforming some into perpetrators of evil and others into pathologi- 
cal victims, I was even more fully transformed by the System of domination. The 
others were kids, young men, without much real experience. I was a seasoned re- 
searcher, a mature adult, and a "street-smart" grown-up, still filled with my 
Bronx-boy acumen in sizing up situations and figuring out action-scenario to sur- 
vive in the ghetto. 

However, in the past week I had gradually morphed into a Prison Authority 
Figure. I walked and talked like one. Everyone around me responded to me as 
though I were one. Therefore, I became one of them. The very nexus of that 
authority figure is one that I have opposed, even detested, all my life — the high- 
status, authoritarian, overbearing boss man. Yet I had become that abstraction in 
the flesh. I could ease my conscience by noting that one of my principal activities 
as the good, kindly superintendent was restraining the overeager guards from 
committing physical violence. That restraint merely allowed them to divert their 
energies into more ingenious psychological abuses of the suffering prisoners. 

It was surely my mistake to embrace the dual roles of researcher and super- 
intendent because their different, sometimes conflicting, agendas created identity 
confusion in me. At the same time, those dual roles also compounded my power, 
which in turn influenced the many "outsiders" who came into our setting but did 
not challenge the System — parents, friends, colleagues, police, the priest, the media, 
and the lawyer. It is evident that one does not appreciate the power of Situations 
to transform one's thinking, feeling, and action when caught in its grip. A person 
in the claws of the System just goes along, doing what emerges as the natural way 
to respond at that time in that place. 

If you were placed in a strange and novel cruel Situation within a powerful 
System, you would probably not emerge as the same person who entered that cru- 
cible of human nature. You would not recognize your familiar image if it were 
held next to the mirror image of what you had become. We all want to believe in 
our inner power, our sense of personal agency, to resist external situational forces 
of the kinds operating in this Stanford Prison Experiment. For some, that belief 
is valid. They are usually the minority, the rare birds, those who I will designate 
as heroic later in our journey. For many, that belief of personal power to resist 
powerful situational and systemic forces is little more than a reassuring illusion of 
invulnerability. Paradoxically, maintaining that illusion only serves to make one 
more vulnerable to manipulation by failing to be sufficiently vigilant against at- 
tempts of undesired influence subtly practiced on them. 

Friday's Fade to Black 



It was evident that we had to use the short but vital debriefing time for several 
purposes. First, we needed to allow all the participants to express openly their 
emotions and reactions to this unique experience within a nonthreatening situa- 
tion.' Next, it was important for me to make clear to both the prisoners and the 
guards that any extreme behavior they had displayed was diagnostic of the power 
of the situation and not diagnostic of any personal pathology in them. They had 
to be reminded that they had all been chosen precisely because they were normal 
and healthy to begin with. They had not brought any kind of personal defects into 
this prison setting; the setting had brought out the extremes in them that we all 
had witnessed. They were not the proverbial "bad apples" — rather, it was the "bad 
barrel" of the Stanford prison that was implicated in the transformations that had 
been demonstrated so vividly. Finally, it was crucial to use this opportunity as a 
time for moral reeducation. The debriefing was a means of exploring the moral 
choices that had been available to each of the participants and how they had 
dealt with them. We discussed what the guards could have done differently to be 
less abusive to the prisoners and what the prisoners could have done to deflect 
their abuse. I made it clear that I felt personally responsible for not having inter- 
vened a number of times during the study when the abuse was extreme. I had 
tried to contain physical aggression, but I had not acted to modify or stop the other 
forms of humiliation when I should have. I was guilty of the sin of omission — the 
evil of inaction — of not providing adequate oversight and surveillance when it 
was required. 

The Ex-Cons Vent 

The former prisoners displayed a curious mixture of relief and resentment. They 
were all pleased that the nightmare was finally over. Those who had survived the 
week did not show any overt pride in their accomplishment in the face of their 
peers who had been released early. They knew that at times they had been 
zombie-like in their mindless compliance, obeying absurd orders and totally con- 
forming in chants against Prisoner Stewart-819, as well as engaging in hostile ac- 
tions against Clay-416 and ridiculing Tom-2093, our most moral prisoner, "Sarge." 

The five prisoners released early showed no negative signs of the emotional 
overload they had suffered. This was in part because they had a base level of sta- 
bility and normality to which to return and in part because the source of their dis- 
tress was centered on such an atypical setting, the basement jail, and its strange 
happenings. Being divested of their strange uniform and other prison attire had 
also helped detach them from that sordid situation. For the prisoners, the main 
issue was coping with the shame inherent in the submissive role they had played. 
They needed to establish a sense of personal dignity, to rise above the constraints 
of their submissive position that had been externally imposed on them. 


The Lucifer Effect 

However, Doug-8612, the first to be arrested and first to be released because 
of his deteriorating mental condition, was still angry with me in particular for 
having created a situation in which he lost control over his behavior and mind. 
Indeed, he had thought about leading a break-in with his friends to free the pris- 
oners and had, in fact, come back to Jordan Hall the day after he was released to 
prepare for it. Fortunately, he had decided against that action for several reasons. 
He was amused to learn how seriously we had taken the rumor of his liberation 
plans and doubly pleased to learn of the lengths to which we, and especially I, had 
gone to safeguard our institution from his assault. 

As expected, the newly freed former inmates railed against the guards, who 
they felt had gone far beyond the demands of their role to be creatively abusive to 
them or to single them out for particular abuse. Tops on their negative hit parade 
were Hellmann, Arnett, and Burdan, followed by Varnish and Ceros as less consis- 
tently "evil." 

However, they were as quick to point out those guards whom they saw as 
"good guards," who had done little favors for them or who had never been so fully 
immersed in their role that they forgot that the prisoners were human beings. In 
this category, the two standouts were Geoff Landry and Markus. Geoff had done 
small favors for them, constantly distanced himself from the abusive actions of 
his night shift crewmates, and even stopped wearing his guard's sunglasses and 
military shirt. He even told us later that he had thought about asking to become a 
prisoner because he hated to be part of a system that was grinding other people 
down so badly. 

Markus was not as obviously "wired" into the prisoners' suffering, but we 
learned that on a few early occasions he had brought in a gift of fresh fruit to sup- 
plement the prisoners' meager meals. After the warden had admonished him for 
not being sufficiently engaged during his shift, Markus, who had stayed on the 
sidelines during the prisoner revolt, began to yell at the prisoners and to issue 
scathing parole reports against them. As an aside, Markus's handwriting is quite 
beautiful, almost like calligraphy, so he showed it off a bit, using it to denounce 
the prisoners' parole requests. He is someone who loves the outdoors, hiking, 
camping, and yoga; therefore, he especially hated to be cooped up in our dungeon. 

Between the "bad" and the "good" guards were those who had gone "by the 
book," done their job, played the role, and punished infractions but were rarely 
personally abusive toward individual prisoners. Here we find Varnish, the stand- 
by guards Morison and Peters, and, at times, the younger Landry brother. The ini- 
tial aloofness and distancing himself from the Yard action that Varnish showed 
may in part have been due to his shyness, as revealed in his background informa- 
tion statement of "having few close friends." 

John Landry played a vacillating role, at times as tough sidekick to Arnett 
and always as the one attacking rebellious prisoners with the skin-chilling, fire 
extinguisher carbon dioxide spray. At other times, he went by the book, and most 
prisoners reported that they liked him. John, a mature eighteen-year-old, was 

Friday's Fade to Black 


rather ruggedly handsome, and aspired to write fiction, live on a California beach, 
and continue dating a lot. 

One mode of inaction that characterized the "good guards" was their reluc- 
tance to challenge the abusive actions of the "bad guards" on their shift. Not only 
did they never face up to them while on the Yard, but neither Geoff Landry nor 
Markus ever did so in private when they were in the guard quarters, as far as we 
were able to determine. Later on we will consider whether their failure to inter- 
vene as bystanders to abuse constituted an "evil of inaction." 

One of the consistently rebellious prisoners, Paul-5704, reported this reac- 
tion upon discovering that the experiment was over: 

When we were notified the experiment was over, I felt a wave of relief and 
a wave of melancholy break inside of me at once. I was really glad the 
study was over, but also would have been much more happy that it lasted 
2 weeks. The money is the only reason I was in the experiment. All the 
same, the feeling that I was glad to get out won, and I couldn't stop smiling 
till I got to Berkeley. Once I was there for a few hours, I forgot the whole 
thing and wouldn't talk to anybody about it. 7 

You will recall that this Paul was the prisoner who was proud to be the head 
of the Stanford County Jail Prisoners' Grievance Committee and the one who had 
also planned to write an expose of the study for several alternative newspapers in 
Berkeley revealing how government-supported research was focused on ways in 
which to deal with student dissidents. His plan was totally forgotten; it never hap- 

The Ex-Guards Resent 

In the second hour of debriefing, the former guards presented a quite different 
group portrait. While a few of them, the "good guards" in the prisoner evalua- 
tions, were also glad that the ordeal was over, most were distressed to see the study 
terminated prematurely. Some focused on the easy money they had been antici- 
pating for another week's work now that they had the situation clearly under 
their control. (They ignored the continuing problems posed by Clay-416's fast 
and Sarge's gaining the moral upper hand in his confrontations with Hellmann.) 
Some guards were ready to apologize openly for having gone too far, for fully en- 
joying their power. Others felt justified in what they had done, seeing their actions 
as necessary to fulfill the role they had been given. My main problem in dealing 
with the guards was to help them recognize that they should be experiencing 
some guilt since they had made others suffer, despite their understanding of the 
demands of the role they were playing. I made clear my strong guilt for failing to 
intervene more often, which had thereby given them implicit permission to go to 
the extremes they did. They might have avoided their abuses had they had better 
top-down surveillance. 

It was easy for most guards to point to the prisoner rebellion on Day 2 as the 


The Lucifer Effect 

turning point in their perception of the prisoners, who suddenly appeared to 
them as "dangerous" and needing to be suppressed. They also resented the nega- 
tive personal references and cursing that some prisoners made to them during the 
rebellion, which they considered demeaning and which elicited their retaliation 
in kind. 

A difficult element of the debriefing was allowing the guards to explain why 
they had done what they did, without sanctioning their justifications, for those 
were simply excuses for abusive, hostile, and even sadistic behavior. The end of the 
experiment also meant the end of enjoying having all that newfound guard 
power at their command. As Guard Burdan noted in his diary, "When Phil con- 
fides in me that the experiment was going to be over, I feel elated, but shocked to 
find some other guards disappointed somewhat because of the loss of money, but 
somewhat because they were enjoying themselves." 8 

A Final Mixing of the Categories 

In the third hour of debriefing a lot of nervous laughter filled the laboratory room 
when we brought in the former prisoners to meet their captors, indistinguishable 
in their civilian clothes. Without their uniforms, numbers, and distinctive acces- 
sories, they were interchangeable, hard even for me to identify, having gotten so 
used to seeing them in their prison garb. (Remember, in 1971 there was hair 
everywhere, shoulder-length hair and long sideburns on most of the students in 
both categories, some of whom had full mustaches as well.) 

The joint session was, in the words of one former prisoner, "stiffly polite," 
compared to the more relaxed and friendly prisoners' session. As each was scop- 
ing out the others, one prisoner asked whether some recruits had been selected to 
be guards because they were taller. Jerry-5486 said, "I had the feeling somewhere 
along the study that the guards were bigger than the prisoners, and I wonder if 
the average height of the guards is higher than the average height of the prison- 
ers. I don't know if that's true or not or if that was my perception because of the 
uniforms." Before I answered "No," I asked all the students to line up in order of 
their height, from tallest to shortest. There was an almost perfect height match 
between the guards on one side and the prisoners on the other. What became evi- 
dent is that the prisoners had come to perceive the guards as taller than they ac- 
tually were, as though their guard power provided them with a two-inch shoe lift. 

There were not any direct confrontations between abused prisoners and 
abusing guards, as I had anticipated there might be. In part, this was because 
such personal challenges would have been awkward in a group of more than 
twenty people. It is likely, however, that what remained of the strong emotions felt 
by some of the former prisoners had to be consciously suppressed now that the 
power grid had been deactivated. It also helped that a few of the guards openly 
apologized for submerging themselves too deeply into their role and taking it too 
seriously. Their apologies eased the tension and stood as proxy for the tougher 
guards who did not apologize openly, like Hellmann. 

Friday's Fade to Black 


At this debriefing session, former Tough Guard Arnett, our sociology gradu- 
ate student, recounted two events that had impressed him: 

One was Zimbardo's observation of "prisoners' " immersion in their in- 
mate roles . . . expressed by people staying inmates even when they said 
they'd give up their payment if they could be released [paroled]. The other 
impression is the seeming inability of former "prisoners" at the meeting to 
believe that "John Wayne" and I, and perhaps other guards (I felt that we 
were the two most disliked guards) had been completely acting in our 
roles. Some or many "prisoners" seemed to feel that we were actually 
sadistic or extremely authoritarian people and that our professions of act- 
ing were cover-ups, to hide the real nature of our behavior from them, or 
ourselves, or both. I am absolutely sure that for myself at least, this was not 
the case.' 

One psychological observation that I offered was about the lack of humor in 
our prison and the failure to use humor to defuse tension or even to bring some 
reality to an unreal situation. For example, guards who were not pleased with the 
extreme behavior of their shift mates could have made a joke at their expense in 
guard quarters, saying that they should be getting double pay for overacting their 
role. Or the prisoners might have used humor to pull themselves out of the unreal 
basement jail by asking the guards what this place had been used for before it be- 
came a jail: a pigsty? Or a frat house, maybe? Humor breaks through the preten- 
sions of person and place. However, in the past week there had been none to be 
found in this sad place. 

Before we adjourned, I asked them all to be sure they had completed their 
final evaluations of the experience they had undergone and to complete some 
other forms that Curt Banks had available. I also invited them to write a short ret- 
rospective diary of the events that stood out in their memory during the following 
month. They would get a fee for doing so. Finally, they would all be invited back in 
a few weeks for a "Class of 1971" reunion to review some of the data we had 
gathered. A slide show and video clips would be available. 

It should be added that I maintained contact with many of the participants 
over a number of years, all of them through correspondence whenever there was 
a publication or media show of the study. In addition, some of them participated 
in various television programs that featured our study for decades after this expe- 
rience, a few even to this day. We will discuss the aftereffects of this experience on 
them later on. 

What Does It Mean to Be a Prisoner or a Guard? 

Before we turn in the next chapter to examining some of the objective data we col- 
lected over the six days of study and to reflect on the serious ethical issues raised 
by the experiment, I think it would be useful to review some of the insights we 
gathered from a selection of our participants. 


The Lucifer Effect 

On Being in the Role of Prisoner 

Clay-416: "A good prisoner is one who knows how to strategically unify himself 
with other prisoners without getting put out of action himself. My cellmate, Jerry 
[5486], is a good prisoner. There are always bound to be some prisoners strug- 
gling to get out and others who are not at that point. Those who are not strug- 
gling at the time should learn to protect their interests without being a real 
obstacle to those who are struggling. A bad prisoner is one who cannot do this, 
who is only out for himself.'"" 

]erry-5486: "The most apparent thing that I noticed was how most of the 
people in this study derive their sense of identity and well-being from their imme- 
diate surroundings rather than from within themselves, and that's why they 
broke down — just couldn't stand the pressure — they had nothing within them to 
hold up against all of this." " 

Paul-5704: "The way we had to degrade ourselves really brought me down 
and that's why we all got docile towards the end of the experiment. I gave up being 
a reactionary because I could see nothing was being changed by my attitude and 
behavior. After Stew and Rich [819 and 1037] left, I found myself thinking that I 
couldn't change everything that needed changing myself . . . that's another rea- 
son I settled down after they left, to accomplish what I wanted I would have 
needed others to work with me. I tried to talk to the other prisoners about a strike 
or something, but they wanted no part of it because of the punishment they had 
received for the first one . " 12 

Guard Arnett: "I was profoundly surprised and impressed by the reactions of 
most of the prisoners to the experimental situation . . . particularly the individual 
breakdowns which did occur, and the impending ones which I feel surely would 
have happened had the experiment not been terminated when it was."" 

Doug-8612: "The material conditions, like the guards, the cells, and such 
stuff, that didn't matter to me — like when I was nude and in chains, that never 
bothered me. It was the head part, the psychological part that was the worst. 
Knowing that I couldn't get out if I wanted ... I didn't like not being able to go to 
the bathroom when I wanted to. . . . It's not having the choice that's the tearing 
apart thing." 14 

Substitute Prisoner Dave-"8612" — our spy, who knew that he was sent into 
our jail for only one day to find out about the nature of the escape plans — reveals 
how quickly and totally one can move into the role of prisoner: "The roles were 
infesting everyone from the lowliest prisoner to the warden himself." He very 
quickly identified himself with the prisoners, and in only a single day the simu- 
lated imprisonment had an enormous impact on Dave: 

I at times felt some guilt at being sent in to fink on these great guys — 
I was somewhat relieved that there was really nothing to tell about the 
escape. . . . And when the opportunity to fink did come up — I knew where 

Friday's Fade to Black 


the handcuff key was after a while — I didn't tell. . . .1 fell asleep that night 
feeling dirty, guilty, scared. When we were taken to the boiler room (in an- 
ticipation of the break in) I had taken off my foot cuff and seriously con- 
sidered trying to escape (alone I might add) but I did not for fear of getting 
caught. . . . The experience of one full day as a prisoner had aroused suffi- 
cient anxiety to keep me away from the prison for the rest of the week. 
Even when I returned for the "debriefing" session, I was still feeling ex- 
tremely anxious — I was not eating very much, felt mildly nauseous all the 
time, and was more nervous than I can ever remember being. The entire 
experience was so upsetting to me that I was unable to bring myself to dis- 
cuss my experiences in depth with anyone — even my wife. 1 ' 

I should add that we later discovered that the handcuff keys had been stolen 
from one of the guards by a prisoner. After the incident with the Wednesday- 
night transfer of all the prisoners up to the fifth-floor storage room, when they 
were returned to the Yard at 12:30 A.M., two of the prisoners had been cuffed to- 
gether to prevent their trying to escape. Without the keys to unlock them, I had to 
call the Stanford Police to remove the cuffs, an embarrassment, to say the least. 
One of the prisoners had thrown the key into a heating vent. David knew this and 
never shared that information with any of the staff. 

On the Power of the Guard Role 

Guard Geoff Landry: "It's almost like a prison that you create yourself — you get 
into it, and it's just that it becomes the definitions you make of yourself, almost 
become walls, and you want to break out, and you want to be able to tell every- 
one that, 'this isn't really Me at all, and I'm a person who wants to get out and 
show that I'm free and I do have my own will, and I'm not the sadistic type of per- 
son that enjoys this type of thing.'"* 

Guard Varnish: "This experience was worthwhile for me, absolutely. The idea 
that two roughly identical groups of college students each in only a week's time 
evolved into two totally disparate social groups with one group having and utiliz- 
ing total power over the other to their detriment is chilling. 

"I was surprised at myself.... I made them call each other names and clean 
out toilets with their bare hands. I practically considered the prisoners 'cattle,' 
and I kept thinking I have to watch out for them in case they try something." 17 

Guard Vandy: "My enjoyment in harassing and punishing prisoners was quite 
unnatural for me because I tend to think of myself as being sympathetic to the in- 
jured, especially animals. I think that it was an outgrowth from my total freedom 
to rule the prisoners, I began to abuse my authority." 18 

(An interesting carryover, or carryout, of this newfound guard power is re- 
vealed in Warden Jaffe's log. Vandy had reported to the others on his shift "that he 
had caught himself bossing his mother around at home.") 

Guard Arnett: "Being superficially tough came easily to me. For one thing, I 


The Lucifer Effect 

am an authoritarian person in some ways (even though I strongly dislike the trait 
in myself and others). Further, I felt that the experiment was important and my 

being 'guard-like' was part of finding out how people react to real oppression. . . . 

The main influence on my behavior was the feeling, even though vague, that real 
prison is brutal in that it is dehumanizing. I tried to be that within the constraints 
of my detachment and controlled commitment. . . . First, I tried to avoid ever 
being personal or friendly. ... I tried to be neutral and business like. Also, I was 
aware from my readings that the boredom and other aspects of prison life can be 
exploited to make people feel disoriented by being impersonal; giving boring 
work; punishing all prisoners for 'bad' behavior by individuals; demanding per- 
fect execution of trivial commands in exercise and at other times; speaking 
harshly and mechanically during exercise sessions... within a social setting and 
so very sensitive to those in control of that setting, and I tried to heighten prisoner 
alienation by using some of those techniques. I could do this in only a limited way, 
because I didn't want to be brutal." 1 " 

On Good and Bad Guards 

Paul-5704: "I was pleased with John and Geoff [Landry]. They didn't really get 
into the guard thing as much as the others. They always remained human beings 
even when giving punishment to someone. I was surprised that the guards in gen- 
eral accepted their roles as much as they did after being able to go home each day 
or night." 20 

Guard John Landry: 'After I talked to the other prisoners, they told me I was a 
good guard and thanks for being that way. I knew inside I was a shit. Curt [Banks] 
looked at me and I knew he knew. I knew also that while I was good and just to the 
prisoners, I failed myself. I let cruelty happen and did nothing except feel guilty 
and be a nice guy. I honestly didn't think I could do anything. I didn't even try. I 
did what most people do. I sat in the guard's station and tried to forget about the 
prisoners." 21 

An even more remarkable testimony to the power of this simulated prison ex- 
perience and its impact on one of the guards whom prisoners saw as the most fair 
and just, Geoff Landry, the big brother of John Landry, occurred in an audio inter- 
view at the end of the study. He surprised us by indicating that he had been think- 
ing of switching roles. 

Guard Geoff Landry: "The experience became more than just participating in 
the experiment. What I mean to say is that if this was an experiment, the results 
and products were almost too real. When a prisoner gives you a glassy stare, and 
mumbles inaudibly, you just almost have to perceive the worst. It's almost be- 
cause you fear that the worst will happen. It's almost as if I accepted it would hap- 
pen, and the slightest indication of anxiety and breakdown is the beginning of 
the worst possible effects. Specifically, the experience became more than just an 
experiment when 1037 started acting as though he was breaking down. At this 
time I was afraid and apprehensive and thought of quitting. And I also was think- 

Friday's Fade to Black 


ing of asking to become a prisoner. I felt as though I didn't want to become part of 
the machine that beats down on other men and forces them to conform and con- 
tinually harasses them. I almost wished that I was being harassed than having to 
be the harasser."" 

In this context, it is interesting to note that on Wednesday night, this guard 
had reported to the Warden that his shirt was too tight and was irritating his skin, 
so he took it off. Obviously, since he had selected it, had tried it on for fit the day be- 
fore we began, and had worn it for four days with no complaints, his problem was 
more mental than material. We arranged for him to get a larger size, which he put 
on reluctantly. He also kept taking off his sunglasses and not remembering where 
he had put them when the staff asked why he was not following standard guard 

Guard Ceros: "I hated the whole fucking experiment. I walked out the door 
when the experiment was over. It was too real for me."" 

On the Quiet Rage of Guard Sadism 

Doug-8612, in an interview he did later for a student-directed film on our study, 
eloquently compared the Stanford Prison Experiment with real prisons he had 
come to know as a staff member working in a California prison: 

"The Stanford Prison was a very benign prison situation, and it still caused 
the guards to become sadistic, prisoners to become hysterical, other prisoners to 
break out in hives. Here you have a benign situation, and it didn't work. It pro- 
moted everything a regular prison promotes. The guard role promotes sadism. 
The prisoner role promotes confusion and shame. Anybody can be a guard. It's 
harder to be on guard against the impulse to be sadistic. It's a quiet rage, malevo- 
lence, you can keep down but there's nowhere for it to go; it comes out sideways, 
sadistically. I think you do have more control as a prisoner. Everybody needs to 
[experience being] a prisoner. There are real prisoners I have met in jail who are 
people of exceptional dignity, who did not put down the guards, who were always 
respectful of the guards, who did not create in the guards a sadistic impulse, who 
could rise above the shame of the role. They knew how to preserve their dignity in 
that situation."" 

On the Nature of Prisons 

Clay-416: "The guards are as locked in as you are as prisoners. They just have the 
run of the cellblock, but they have a locked door behind them which they can't 
open, and so really you're all together and what you create, you create together. 
Prisoners have no society of their own and the guards don't have any society of 
their own. It's one thing and it's hideous." 25 

Guard Ceros: "[When] a prisoner reacted violently toward me, I found that 
I had to defend myself, not as me but as me the guard. ... He hated me as the 
guard. He was reacting to the uniform. I had no choice but to defend myself as 
a guard. It shocked me. ... I realized that I was just as much a prisoner as they 


The Lucifer Effect 

were. I was just a reaction to their feelings.. .. We were both crushed by the op- 
pressiveness, but we, the guards, had an illusion of freedom. That's just what it 
was, an illusion. . . . We all went in slaves to the money. The prisoners soon be- 
came slaves to us .. . "" As Bob Dylan sings in his song "George Jackson," some- 
times the world seems like one big prison yard: 

Some of us are prisoners, 
The rest of us are guards. 


Reviewing some of the statements made before the start of the experiment and 
then again in our various daily records, we can see some fundamental transitions 
taking place in the mentality of the guards. A case in point is that of Guard Chuck 
Burdan, in his own words before, during, and after this experience. 

Prior to the Experiment: "As I am a pacifist and non-aggressive individual, I 
cannot see a time when I might guard and/or maltreat other living things. I hope 
that I will be chosen as a prisoner rather than a guard. As an anti-establishment 
person continually involved in non-conforming political and social behavior, I 
can foresee a time when I may have to fill the role of a prisoner — and I am curious 
to see my capabilities in that direction." 

After Guard Orientation Meeting: "Buying uniforms at the end of the meeting 
confirms the game-like atmosphere of this thing. I doubt whether many of us 
share the expectations of 'seriousness' that the experimenters seem to have. I am 
feeling a certain amount of relief at being only an alternate." 

First Day: "My main fear at the outset of the experiment was that prisoners 
would see me as a real bastard, as a guard type, as all the things I am not and not 
the way I envision myself.... One of the reasons I have long hair is I don't want 

people to envision me in a manner that I am not Feel sure that the prisoners 

will make fun of my appearance and evolve my first basic strategy — mainly not 
to smile at anything they say or do which would be admitting it's all only a game. 
I stay outside the cage (while Hellmann and the tall blonde guard finish serv- 
ing dinner, they seem much more self-assured in their roles than I feel). As 
I'm bracing myself to enter, I check my sunglasses, pick up my club — which pro- 
vides a certain power and security — and walk in. I set my mouth rigidly into 
a semi scowl, determined to hold it there no matter what is said. At cell 3 I stop 
and setting my voice hard and low say to #5486, 'What are you smiling at?' 
'Nothing, Mr. Correctional Officer.' 'Well see that you don't.' As I walk off I feel 

Second Day: "Walking from my car I suddenly wanted people to notice my 
uniform, 'hey look what I'm doing'. . . . 5704 asked for a cigarette and I ignored 

Friday's Fade to Black 


him — because I am a non-smoker and could not empathize.... Meanwhile since 
I was feeling empathetic towards 1037, 1 determined NOT to talk with him. Later 
on, I am getting into the habit of hitting walls, chairs and bars [with Billy club] to 
show my power.... After we had Count and Lights Out [Guard Hellmann] and I 
held a loud conversation about going home to our girlfriends and what we were 
going to do to them (to irritate the prisoners)." 

Third Day (Preparing for the first Visiting Night): 'After warning the prisoners 
not to make any complaints unless they wanted the visit terminated fast, we fi- 
nally brought in the first parents. I made sure I was one of the guards on the yard, 
because this was my first chance for the type of manipulative power that I really 
like — being a very noticed figure with almost complete control over what is said 
or not. While the parents and prisoners sat in chairs, I sat on the end of the table 
dangling my feet and contradicting anything I felt like. This was the first part of 
the experiment I was really enjoying. Prisoner 819 is being obnoxious and bears 
watching.... [Hellmann] and I both admire and dislike. As a guard (actor) he is 
fantastic, really getting into the sadism of the thing and this bugs me." 

Fourth Day: "The psychologist [Craig Haney] rebukes me for handcuffing and 
blindfolding a prisoner before leaving the [counseling] office, and I resentfully 
reply that it is both necessary security and my business anyway. . . . At home I was 
having more and more trouble describing the reality of the situation." 

Fifth Day: "I harass 'Sarge' who continues to stubbornly over-respond to all 
commands. I have singled him out for special abuse both because he begs for it 
and because I simply don't like him. The real trouble starts at dinner. The new 
prisoner [416] refuses to eat his sausages. We throw him into the Hole ordering 
him to hold sausages in each hand. We have a crisis of authority; this rebellious 
conduct potentially undermines the complete control we have over the others. We 
decide to play upon prisoner solidarity and tell the new one that all the others will 
be deprived of visitors if he does not eat his dinner. I walk by and slam my stick 
into the Hole door. ... I am very angry at this prisoner for causing discomfort and 
trouble for the others. I decided to force feed him, but he wouldn't eat. I let the 
food slide down his face. I didn't believe it was me doing it. I hated myself for mak- 
ing him eat but I hated him more for not eating." 

Sixth Day: "The experiment is over. I feel elated but am shocked to find some 
other guards disappointed somewhat because of the loss of money and some 
because they are enjoying themselves. . . . Talking during the detoxification ses- 
sion was very difficult; everything seems strained and uncomfortable.... I get on 
my bike and ride home through the sunshine. It feels damn good to be out of 

Weeks later: "The absolute cruelty of this event (Hellmann's decision to leave 
416 in the Hole all night) does not hit me until weeks later, but it must have hit 
Phil [Zimbardo] hard along with many other things at this point [that he decided 
to end the study]." 


The Lucifer Effect 

Another curious character transformation of someone only tangentially as- 
sociated with our study is found among "additional anecdotes" in the Warden's 
Log. Recall my serious psychologist colleague who challenged me in the midst of 
my frantic efforts to deceive the anticipated intruders by alleging the study had 
been terminated. He demanded to know, "What is the independent variable?" 

Jaffe's notes indicate that "Dr. B. visited on Tuesday night when the prisoners 
had been moved to the fifth floor closet. He and his wife went upstairs to see the 
prisoners. Mrs. B. passed out cupcakes, while Dr. B. made at least two comments 
ridiculing the prisoners, one concerning their manner of dress, and the other 
concerning the stench of the place. This pattern of 'getting into the act' occurred 
with almost every outside visitor." 

While his wife gave the participants some "tea and sympathy," my usually re- 
served colleague unexpectedly treated these students in a dehumanized way that 
likely made them feel shamed. 

On Hellmann's "Little Experiments" 

Let's look back at the Volunteer Background Form that Hellmann completed a 
week before the start of the experiment in order to get a sense of what he was like 
in his preguard status. I was amazed to learn that he was only an eighteen-year- 
old sophomore student, among our youngest participants. His counterpart, Ar- 
nett, was one of the oldest. Hellmann came from a middle-class academic family, 
the youngest sibling of four older sisters and a brother. At six feet two and 175 
pounds, with green eyes and blond hair, he was an imposing figure. This young 
man identified himself as a musician and "a scientist at heart." His self-description 
indicated, "I live a natural life and love music and food and other people." He 
added, "I have a great love for my fellow human beings." 

In response to the question "What do people like most about you?" Hellmann 
radiated confidence: "People at first admire me because of my talent and outgoing 
personality. Few know my real capabilities at human relationships." 

In response to the negative version, "What do people like least about you?" 
Hellmann gave us an insight into this young man's complex character and a hint 
of what is to come when he is given absolute power. He wrote, "My impatience 
with stupidity, a total disregard for people whose life style I do not agree with. My 
exploitation of some people, my bluntness, my confidence." Finally, let's add to 
the mix that this volunteer said that he preferred to be assigned to the prisoner 
role rather than to be a guard "because people resent guards." 

With that character reference in mind, it is now instructive to review his post- 
experiment reflections on what he perceived his role was in this study. 

Guard Hellmann: "Yes it has been more than an experiment. I had a chance at 
testing people's capabilities, pushing them to the breaking point under the guise 
of a correctional officer. It was not pleasant but I felt compelled out of my own fas- 
cination to test their reactions. I was conducting experiments on my own on 
many occasions." 2 " 

Friday's Fade to Black 


"The best thing about the experiment was that I seemed to be the catalyst 
that brought out some startling results that gained interest from TV and the 
press.... I'm sorry if I caused more trouble than you wanted — It was an experi- 
ment of my own."" 

"The worst thing about the experiment was that so many people took me so 
seriously and that I made them enemies. My words affected them, [the prisoners] 
seemed to lose touch with the reality of the experiment."" 

A month after our study was terminated, this former guard was interviewed 
along with former prisoner Clay-416, his nemesis. They interacted as part of a TV 
documentary about our study on NBC's Chronolog, a forerunner of 60 Minutes. It 
was titled, "819 Did a Bad Thing." 

After Hellmann described his transformation into the guard role, Clay went 
on the offensive, finally being able to add to the adage of that era, "What comes 
around, goes around." 

Hellmann: "Once you put a uniform on and are given a role, I mean, a job, 
saying 'Your job is to keep these people in line,' then you're certainly not the same 
person if you're in street clothes and in a different role. You really become that 
person once you put on the khaki uniform, you put on the glasses, you take the 
nightstick, and you act the part. That's your costume, and you have to act accord- 
ingly when you put it on." 

Clay:"It harms me, I mean harms, I mean in the present tense, it harms me." 

Hellmann: "How did it harm you? How does it harm you? Just to think that 
people can be like that?" 

Clay: "Yeah. It let me in on some knowledge that I've never experienced first- 
hand. I've read about it, I've read a lot about it. But I've never experienced it 
first hand. I've never seen anyone turn that way. And I know that you're a nice 
guy. You know? You understand?" 

Hellmann: [Smiling and shaking his head] "You don't know that." 

Clay: "I do, I do know that you're a nice guy. I don't get bad — " 

Hellmann: "Then why do you hate me?" 

Clay: "Because I know what you can turn into. I know what you're willing to 
do if you say, 'Oh well, I'm not going to hurt anybody.' 'Oh well, it's a limited situa- 
tion, or it's over in two weeks.' " 

Hellmann: "Well, you in that position, what would you have done?" 

Clay (slowly and carefully enunciating each word): I don't know. I can't tell 
you that I know what I'd do." 

Hellmann: "Would you — " 

Clay (now talking over Hellmann): "I don't think, I don't believe, I would 
have been as inventive as you. I don't think I would have applied as much imagina- 
tion to what I was doing. Do you understand?" 

Hellmann: "Yes, I—" 

Clay [interrupting and seeming to enjoy his new sense of power]: "I think I 
would have been a guard, I don't think it would have been such a masterpiece! " 


The Lucifer Effect 

Hellmann: "I didn't see where it was really harmful. It was degrading, and 
that was part of my particular little experiment to see how I could, uh — " 

Clay (in disbelief): "Your particular little experiment? Why don't you tell me 
about that?" 

Hellmann: "I was running little experiments of my own." 

Clay: "Tell me about your little experiments. I'm curious." 

Hellmann: "Okay, I wanted to see just what kind of verbal abuse that people 
can take before they start objecting, before they start lashing back, under the cir- 
cumstances. And it surprised me that no one said anything to stop me. No one 
said, 'Jeez, you can't say those things to me, those things are sick.' Nobody said 
that, they just accepted what I said. I said, 'Go tell that man to his face that he's 
the scum of the earth," and they'd do it without question. They'd do push-ups 
without question, they'd sit in the Hole, they'd abuse each other, and here they're 
supposed to be together as a unit in jail, but here they're abusing each other be- 
cause I requested them to and no one questioned my authority at all. And it really 
shocked me. [His eyes get teary.] Why didn't people say something when I started 
to abuse people? I started to get so profane, and still, people didn't say anything. 

Why indeed? 


The SPE's Meaning and Messages: 
The Alchemy of Character 

We 're all guinea pigs in the laboratory of God .. . 
Humanity is just a work in progress. 

— Tennessee Williams, Camino Real (1953) 

The Stanford Prison Experiment began as a simple demonstration of the effects 
that a composite of situational variables has on the behavior of individuals role- 
playing prisoners and guards in a simulated prison environment. For this ex- 
ploratory investigation, we were not testing specific hypotheses but rather 
assessing the extent to which the external features of an institutional setting 
could override the internal dispositions of the actors in that environment. Good 
dispositions were pitted against a bad situation. 

However, over time, this experiment has emerged as a powerful illustration of 
the potentially toxic impact of bad systems and bad situations in making good 
people behave in pathological ways that are alien to their nature. The narrative 
chronology of this study, which I have tried to re-create faithfully here, vividly re- 
veals the extent to which ordinary, normal, healthy young men succumbed to, or 
were seduced by, the social forces inherent in that behavioral context — as were I 
and many of the other adults and professionals who came within its encompass- 
ing boundaries. The line between Good and Evil, once thought to be impermeable, 
proved instead to be quite permeable. 

It is time now for us to review other evidence that we collected during the 
course of our research. Many quantitative sources of information shed additional 
light on what happened in that dark basement prison. Therefore, we must use all 
the available evidence to extract the meanings that have emerged from this 
unique experiment and to establish the ways in which humanity can be trans- 
formed by power and by powerlessness. Underlying those meanings are signifi- 
cant messages about the nature of human nature and the conditions that can 
diminish or enrich it. 


The Lucifer Effect 


As you have seen, our psychologically compelling prison environment elicited in- 
tense, realistic, and often pathological reactions from many of the participants. 
We were surprised both by the intensity of the guards' domination and the speed 
with which it appeared in the wake of the prisoner rebellion. As in the case of 
Doug-8612, we were surprised that situational pressures could overcome most of 
these normal, healthy young men so quickly and so extremely. 

Experiencing a loss of personal identity and subjected to arbitrary continual 
control of their behavior, as well as being deprived of privacy and sleep, generated 
in them a syndrome of passivity, dependency, and depression that resembled what 
has been termed "learned helplessness.'" (Learned helplessness is the experience 
of passive resignation and depression following recurring failure or punishment, 
especially when it seems arbitrary and not contingent upon one's actions.) 

Half of our student prisoners had to be released early because of severe emo- 
tional and cognitive disorders, transient but intense at the time. Most of those 
who remained for the duration generally became mindlessly obedient to the 
guards' demands and seemed "zombie-like" in their listless movements while 
yielding to the whims of the ever-escalating guard power. 

As with the rare "good guards," so too, a few prisoners were able to stand up 
to the guards' domination. As we have seen, Clay-416, who should have been 
supported for his heroic passive resistance, instead was harassed by his fellow 
prisoners for being a "troublemaker." They adopted the narrow dispositional per- 
spective provided by the guards rather than generate their own metaperspective 
on Clay's hunger strike as emblematic of a path for their communal resistance 
against blind obedience to authority. 

Sarge also behaved heroically at times by refusing to curse or verbally abuse 
a fellow prisoner when ordered to do so, but at all other times he was the model 
obedient prisoner. Jerry-486 emerged as our most evenly balanced prisoner; how- 
ever, as he indicates in his personal reflections, he survived only by turning in- 
ward and not doing as much as he might to help the other prisoners, who could 
have benefited from his support. 

When we began our experiment, we had a sample of individuals who did not 
deviate from the normal range of the general educated population on any of the 
dimensions we had premeasured. Those randomly assigned to the role of "pris- 
oner" were interchangeable with those in the "guard" role. Neither group had 
any history of crime, emotional or physical disability, or even intellectual or social 
disadvantage that might typically differentiate prisoners from guards and prison- 
ers from the rest of society. 

It is by virtue of this random assignment and the comparative premeasures 
that I am able to assert that these young men did not import into our jail any of 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


the pathology that subsequently emerged among them as they played either pris- 
oners or guards. At the start of this experiment, there were no differences be- 
tween the two groups; less than a week later, there were no similarities between 
them. It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the pathologies were elicited by 
the set of situational forces constantly impinging upon them in this prisonlike set- 
ting. Further, this Situation was sanctioned and maintained by a background 
System that I helped to create. I did so first when I gave the new guards their psy- 
chological orientation and then with the development of various policies and pro- 
cedures that I and my staff helped to put into operation. 

Neither the guards nor the prisoners could be considered "bad apples" prior 
to the time when they were so powerfully impacted by being embedded in a "bad 
barrel." The complex of features within that barrel constitute the situational 
forces in operation in this behavioral context — the roles, rules, norms, anonymity 
of person and place, dehumanizing processes, conformity pressures, group iden- 
tity, and more. 


The around-the-clock direct observations that we made of behavioral interac- 
tions between prisoners and guards, and of special events, were supplemented by 
videotaped recordings (about twelve hours), concealed audiotape recordings 
(about thirty hours), questionnaires, self-reported individual difference person- 
ality measures, and various interviews. Some of these measures were coded for 
quantitative analyses, and some were correlated with outcome measures. 

The data analyses present a number of problems in their interpretation: the 
sample size was relatively small; the recordings were selective and not compre- 
hensive because of our limited budget and staff, and because of the strategic deci- 
sion to focus on daily events of high interest (such as counts, meals, visitors, and 
parole hearings). In addition, the causal directions are uncertain because of the 
dynamic interplay among guards and prisoners within and across guard shifts. 
The quantitative data analysis of individual behavior is confounded by the obvi- 
ous fact of the complex interactions of persons, groups, and time-based effects. 
In addition, unlike traditional experiments, we did not have a control group 
of comparable volunteers who did not undergo the experimental treatment of 
being a mock prisoner or mock guard but were given various pre-post assess- 
ments. We did not do so because we thought about our design as more a demon- 
stration of a phenomenon, like Milgram's original obedience study, than as an 
experiment to establish causal associations. We imagined doing such control- 
versus-experimental group comparisons in future research if we obtained any 
interesting findings from this first exploratory investigation. Thus, our simple 
independent variable was only the main effect of the treatment of guard-versus- 
prisoner status. 


The Lucifer Effect 

Nevertheless, some clear patterns emerged that amplify the qualitative nar- 
rative I have presented thus far. These findings offer some interesting insights into 
the nature of this psychologically compelling environment and of the young men 
who were tested by its demands. Full details of the operational scoring of these 
measures and their statistical significance is available in the scientific article pub- 
lished in the International Journal of Criminology and Penology and on the website . 

Personality Measures 

Three kinds of measures of individual differences among the participants were 
administered when they came in for their pre-experiment assessment a few days 
prior to the start of the study. These measures were the F-Scale of authoritarian- 
ism, the Machiavellian Scale of interpersonal manipulation strategies, and the 
Comrey Personality Scales. 

The F-Scale.' On this measure of rigid adherence to conventional values and a 
submissive, uncritical attitude toward authority, there was no statistically signifi- 
cant difference between the mean score of the guards (4.8) and that of the pris- 
oners (4.4) — before they were divided into the two roles. However, a fascinating 
finding emerges when we compare the F-Scale scores of the five prisoners who re- 
mained for the duration of the study and the five who were released early. Those 
who endured the authoritarian environment of the SPE scored more than twice 
(mean = 7.8) as high on conventionality and authoritarianism than their early- 
released peers (mean = 3.2). Amazingly, when these scores are arranged in rank 
order from lowest to highest prisoner F-Scale values, a highly significant correla- 
tion is found with the number of days of staying in the experiment (correlation 
coefficient = .90). A prisoner was likely to remain longer and adjust more effec- 
tively to the authoritarian prison environment to the extent that he was high in 
rigidity, adherence to conventional values, and acceptance of authority — the fea- 
tures which characterized our prison setting. To the contrary, the prisoners who 
handled the pressures least well were the young men who were lowest on these 
F-Scale traits — which some would say are to their credit. 

The Machiavellian Scale.' This measure, as its name implies, assesses one's en- 
dorsement of strategies for gaining effective advantage in interpersonal encoun- 
ters. However, no significant differences were found between the guards' mean 
score {7.7) and the slightly higher mean of the prisoners (8.8), nor did this mea- 
sure predict duration of the stay in prison. We expected that the skill of those high 
on this trait of manipulating others might be relevant in their daily interactions 
in this setting, but while two of the prisoners with the highest Machiavellian 
score were those we judged to have adjusted best to the prison, two others we 
evaluated as also adjusting well had the lowest Machiavellian scores. 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


The Comrey Personality Scales.' This self-report inventory consists of eight sub- 
scales that we used to predict dispositional variations between the guards and 
prisoners. These personality measures are: Trustworthiness, Orderliness, Confor- 
mity, Activity, Stability, Extroversion, Masculinity, and Empathy. On this measure, 
the average scores of the guards and those of the prisoners were virtually inter- 
changeable; none even approached statistical significance. Furthermore, on 
every subscale, the group mean fell within the fortieth to sixtieth percentile range 
of the normative male population reported by Comrey. This finding bolsters the 
assertion that the personalities of the students in the two different groups could 
be defined as "normal" or "average." Craig Haney and Curt Banks did indeed do 
their preselection task of choosing a sample of student volunteers who were "or- 
dinary men" well. In addition, there were no prior dispositional tendencies that 
could distinguish those individuals who role-played the guards from those who 
enacted the prisoner role. 

A few interesting, though nonsignificant, differences were found between 
the prisoners who were released early and those who endured the full catastro- 
phe. The "endurers" scored higher on Conformity ("acceptance of society as it 
is"), Extroversion, and Empathy (helpfulness, sympathy, generosity) than those 
who had to be released due to their extreme stress reactions. 

If we examine the scores for those individual guards and prisoners that most 
deviated from the average of their group (by 1.5 standard deviations or more), 
some curious patterns appear. 

First, let's look at some personality characteristics of particular prisoners. 
My impression of prisoner Jerry-5486 as "most together" was clearly supported 
by his being higher than any other prisoner on Stability, with nearly all his other 
scores very close to the population norm. When he does deviate from the others, 
it is always in a positive direction. He was also highest in Masculinity ("does not 
cry easily, not interested in love stories"). Stewart-819, who trashed his cell and 
caused grief to his cellmates who had to clean up his mess, scored lowest in Order- 
liness (the extent to which a person is meticulous and concerned with neatness 
and orderliness). Despite rules to the contrary, he did not care. Guess who scored 
highest on the measure of Activity (liking physical activity, hard work, and exer- 
cise)? Yes, indeed, it was Sarge-2093. Trustworthiness is the belief in the basic 
honesty and good intentions of others, and Clay-416 took the prize on that di- 
mension. Finally, from the prisoner profiles, who do you suspect got the highest 
score on "Conformity" (a belief in law enforcement, acceptance of society as it is, 
and resentment of nonconformity in others)? Who reacted most strongly against 
Clay-416's resistance to the guards' demands? It was none other than our hand- 
some youngster, Hubbie-7258! 

Among the guards, there were only a few individual profile scores that were 
interesting as being "atypical" compared to their peers'. First, we see that the 
"good guard" John Landry, not his brother Geoff, was highest on Empathy. Guard 


The Lucifer Effect 

Varnish was lowest on Empathy and Trustworthiness but highest on concern for 
neatness and orderliness. He also had the highest Machiavellian score of any 
guard. Packaged together, that syndrome characterizes the coolly efficient, me- 
chanical, and detached behavior he showed throughout the study. 

While these findings suggest that personality measures do predict behavioral 
differences in some individual cases, we need to be cautious in overgeneralizing 
their utility in understanding individual behavior patterns in novel settings, such 
as this one. For example, based on all the measures we examined, Jerry-5486 was 
the most "supranormal" of the prisoners. However, second in line with person- 
ality inventory scores that would qualify him as "most normal" is Doug-8612. 
His disturbed account of acting and then becoming "crazy" was hardly pre- 
dictable from his "most normal" pre -experimental status. Moreover, we could find 
no personality precursors for the difference between the four meanest guards and 
the others who were less abusive. Not a single personality predisposition could ac- 
count for this extreme behavioral variation. 

Now if we look at the personality scores of the two guards who were clearly 
the meanest and most sadistic toward prisoners, Hellmann and Arnett, both 
turned out to be ordinary, average on all but one of the personality dimensions. 
Where they diverged was on Masculinity. An intuitive personality theorist would 
seem justified in assuming that Hellmann, our badass "John Wayne," would top 
off the scale on Masculinity. Just the opposite was true: he scored lower on Mas- 
culinity than any other guard and, for that matter, lower than any prisoner did. In 
contrast, Arnett scored as the most masculine of all the guards. Psychodynamic 
analysts would most certainly assume that Hellmann's cruel, dominating behav- 
ior and his invention of homophobic exercises were motivated by a reaction for- 
mation against his nonmasculine, possibly latent-homosexual nature. However, 
before we wax analytically lyrical, I must hasten to add that there has been noth- 
ing in his subsequent lifestyle over the past thirty-five years that has character- 
ized this young man as anything but appropriate and normal as a husband, 
father, businessman, and civic-minded citizen. 

Mood Adjective Self-Reports. Twice during the study and immediately after the de- 
briefing session, each of the students completed a checklist of adjectives that they 
felt best described their current mood state. We combined the mood adjectives 
into those that reflected negative versus positive moods and separately those that 
portrayed activity versus passivity. As might well be expected from all we have 
seen of the state of the prisoners, the prisoners expressed three times as much 
negative affect as positive and much more negativity overall than did the guards. 
The guards expressed slightly more negative than positive affect. Another inter- 
esting difference between the two groups is the greater fluctuation in the prison- 
ers' mood states. Over the course of the study, they showed two to three times as 
much variation in their moods as did the relatively stable guards. On the dimen- 
sion of activity-passivity, the prisoners tended to score twice as high, indicating 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


twice as much internal "agitation" as the guards. While the prison experience 
had a negative emotional impact upon both guards and prisoners, the adverse ef- 
fects upon the prisoners were more profound and unstable. 

Comparing the prisoners who stayed to those who were released early, the 
mood of those who had to be terminated was marked by a decidedly more nega- 
tive tone: depression and unhappiness. When the mood scales were administered 
for a third time, just after the subjects were told that the study had been termi- 
nated (the early-released subjects returned for the debriefing encounter session), 
elevated changes in positive moods were evident. All of the now "ex-convicts" se- 
lected self-descriptive adjectives that characterized their mood as less negative 
and much more positive — a decrease in negativity from the initially strong 15.0 
to a low of 5.0, while their positivity soared from the initial low of 6.0 up to 17.0. 
In addition, they now felt less passive than before. 

In general, there were no longer any differences on these mood subscales be- 
tween prisoners released early and those who endured the six days. I am happy to 
be able to report the vital conclusion that by the end of the study both groups of 
students had returned to their pre -experiment baselines of normal emotional re- 
sponding. This return to normality seems to reflect the "situational specificity" of 
the depression and stress reactions these students experienced while playing their 
unusual roles. 

This last finding can be interpreted in several ways. The emotional impact of 
the prison experience was transient since the suffering prisoners quickly bounced 
back to a normal mood base level as soon as the study was terminated. It also 
speaks to the "normality" of the participants we had so carefully selected, and 
this bounce-back attests to their resilience. However, the same overall reaction 
among the prisoners could have come from very different sources. Those who re- 
mained were elated by their newfound freedom and the knowledge that they had 
survived the ordeal. Those who were released early were no longer emotionally 
distressed, having readjusted while away from the negative situation. Perhaps we 
can also attribute some of their newly positive reactions to gratification at seeing 
their fellow prisoners released, thus relieving them of the burden of guilt they 
may have felt for leaving early while their fellows had to stay on, enduring the or- 

Although some guards indicated that they wished the study had continued 
as planned for another week as a group they too were glad to see it end. Their 
mean positivity score more than doubled (from 4.0 to 10.2), and their low nega- 
tivity score (6.0) got even lower (2.0). Therefore, as a group, they also were able to 
regain their emotional composure and balance despite their role in creating the 
horrible conditions in this prison setting. This mood readjustment does not mean 
that some of these young men were not troubled by what they had done and by 
their failure to stop abuse, as we noted earlier in their postexperiment reactions 
and retrospective diaries. 


The Lucifer Effect 

Video Analysis. There were twenty-five relatively discrete incidents identifiable on 
the tapes of prisoner-guard interactions. Each incident or scene was scored for 
the presence of ten behavioral (and verbal) categories. Two raters, who had not 
been involved with the study, independently scored these tapes, and their level 
of agreement was satisfactory. These categories were: Asking Questions, Giv- 
ing Commands, Offering Information, Using Individuating Reference (positive) or 
Deindividuating (negative), Making Threats, Giving Resistance, Helping Others, 
Using Instruments (for some goal), and Exhibiting Aggression. 

As shown in the figure summarizing these results, overall there was an ex- 
cess of negative, hostile interactions between the guards and prisoners. Assertive 
activity was largely the prerogative of the guards, while the prisoners generally 
assumed a relatively passive stance. Most characteristic of the guards across the 









Use of 



10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


situations we recorded were the following responses: giving commands, insulting 
prisoners, deindividualizing prisoners, showing aggression toward prisoners, 
threatening, and using instruments against them. 

At first, the prisoners resisted the guards, notably in the early days of the 
study and later, when Clay-416 went on his hunger strike. The prisoners tended 
to positively individuate others, asked questions of them, gave information to 
them, and rarely showed the negative behavior toward others that became typical 
of the dominating guards. Again, this occurred only in the first days of the study. 
On the other hand, the two most infrequent behaviors we observed over the six 
days of our study were individuating others and helping others. Only one such in- 
cident of helping was recorded — a solitary sign of human concern for a fellow 
human being occurred between two prisoners. 

The recordings also underscore quantitatively what was observed over the 
course of the study: the guards continually escalated their harassment of the pris- 
oners. If we compare two of the first prisoner-guard interactions during the counts 
with two of the last, we note that in an equivalent unit of time, no deindividuat- 
ing references occurred initially, but a robust average of 5.4 occurred in the last 
counts. Similarly, the guards spoke few deprecating insults initially, only an aver- 
age of 0.3, but by the last day they degraded the prisoners an average of 5.7 times 
in the same length of time. 

According to the temporal analysis from this video data, what the prisoners 
did was simply to behave less and less over time. There was a general decrease 
across all behavioral categories over time. They did little initiating, simply becom- 
ing increasingly passive as the days and nights moved numbingly on. 

The video analysis also clearly showed that the "John Wayne" night shift was 
hardest on the prisoners compared to the other two shifts. The behavior of the 
guards on this tough and cruel shift differed significantly from those that pre- 
ceded and followed it in the following ways: issuing more commands (an average 
of 9.3 versus 4.0, respectively, for standardized units of time); giving more than 
twice as many deprecating insults toward the prisoners (5.2 versus 2.3, respec- 
tively). They also resorted more often to aggressively punishing the prisoners than 
did the guards on the other shifts. The more subtle verbal aggression in Arnett's 
shift is not detected in these analyses. 

Audio Analysis. From time to time, audio recordings with concealed microphones 
were made of interviews between one of the staff with prisoners and guards, and 
of conversations among prisoners taking place in the cells. Nine categories were 
created to capture the general nature of this verbal behavior. Again, the record- 
ings were classified into these categories by two independent judges, who did so 

In addition to asking questions, giving information, making requests and de- 
mands and ordering commands, other categories focused on criticism; positive/ 
negative outlook; positive/negative self-evaluation; individuating/deindividuating 


The Lucifer Effect 

references; desire to continue in the study or abort; and intention to act in the fu- 
ture in positive or negative ways. 

We were surprised to discover that the guards tended to have nearly as much 
negative outlook and negative self-regard as did most of the prisoners. In fact, the 
"good guard" Geoff Landry expressed more negative self-regard than did any pris- 
oner and more general negative affect than all but one participant, namely Doug- 
8612. Our interviews with prisoners were marked by their general negativity in 
expressing affect and in their self-regard and intentions (primarily intention to be 
aggressive and having a negative outlook on their situation). 

These interviews showed clear differences in the emotional impact of the ex- 
perience between the prisoners who remained and those who were released early. 
We compared the mean number of expressions of negative outlook, negative af- 
fect, negative self-regard, and intention to aggress that were made by remaining 
versus released prisoners (per interview). Prisoners released early expressed expec- 
tations that were more negative and had more negative affect, more negative self- 
regard, and four times as many intentions to aggress as did their fellow prisoners 
who stuck it out. These interesting trends are close to being statistically significant. 

Bugging the cells gave us information about what the prisoners were dis- 
cussing in private during temporary respites from the counts, the menial work 
tasks, and other public events. Remember that the three inmates in each cell were 
initially total strangers. It was only when they were alone in the solitude of their 
cells that they could get to know one another since no "small talk" was allowed at 
public times. We assumed that they would seek common ground for relating to 
one another, given their close quarters and their expectation of interacting for 
two weeks. We expected to hear them talk about their college lives, majors, voca- 
tions, girlfriends, favorite teams, music preferences, hobbies, what they would do 
for the remainder of the summer once the experiment was over, or maybe what 
they would do with the money they would earn. 

Not at all! Almost none of these expectations were borne out. Fully 90 per- 
cent of all conversations among prisoners related to prison issues. Only a mere 
10 percent focused on personal or autobiographical exchanges that were not re- 
lated to the prison experience. The prisoners were most concerned about food, 
guard harassment, establishing a grievance committee, forging plans of escape, 
visitors, and the behavior of prisoners in the other cells and those in solitary. 

When they had the opportunity to distance themselves temporarily from the 
harassment by guards and the tedium of their schedules, to transcend the pris- 
oner role and establish their personal identity in a social interaction, they did not 
do so. The prisoner role dominated all expressions of individual character. The 
prison setting dominated their outlook and concerns — forcing them into an ex- 
panded present temporal orientation. It did not matter whether the presentation 
of self was under surveillance or free from its glare. 

By not sharing their pasts and future expectations, the only thing each pris- 
oner knew about the other prisoners was based on observations of how they were 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


behaving in the present. We know that what they had to see during counts and 
other menial activities was usually a negative image of one another. That image 
was all they had upon which to build a personality impression of their peers. Be- 
cause they focused on the immediate situation, the prisoners also contributed to 
fostering a mentality that intensified the negativity of their experiences. Gener- 
ally, we manage to cope with bad situations by compartmentalizing them into a 
temporal perspective that imagines a better, different future combined with recall 
of a reassuring past. 

This self-imposed intensification of prisoner mentality had an even more 
damaging consequence: the prisoners began to adopt and accept the negative im- 
ages that the guards had developed toward them. Half of all reported private 
interactions between the prisoners could be classified as nonsupportive and non- 
cooperative. Even worse, whenever the prisoners made evaluative statements of, 
or expressed regard for, their fellow prisoners, 85 percent of the time they were 
uncomplimentary and deprecating! These frequencies are statistically significant: 
the greater focus on prison than nonprison topics would occur only one time in a 
hundred by chance, while the focus on negative attributions of fellow prisoners as 
opposed to positive or neutral terms would occur by chance only five times in a 
hundred. This means that such emerging behavioral effects are "real" and not 
likely to be attributed to random fluctuations in what the prisoners discussed in 
the privacy of their cells. 

By internalizing the oppressiveness of the prison setting in these ways, the 
prisoners formed impressions of their mates primarily by watching them be hu- 
miliated, act like compliant sheep, or carry out mindlessly degrading orders. 
Without developing any respect for the others, how could they come to have any 
self-respect in this prison? This last unexpected finding reminds me of the phe- 
nomenon of "identification with the aggressor." The psychologist Bruno Bettel- 
heim' used this term to characterize ways in which Nazi concentration camp 
prisoners internalized the power that was inherent in their oppressors (it was first 
used by Anna Freud). Bettelheim observed that some inmates acted like their Nazi 
guards, not only abusing other prisoners but even wearing bits of cast-off SS uni- 
forms. Desperately hoping to survive a hostile, unpredictable existence, the victim 
senses what the aggressor wants and rather than opposing him, embraces his 
image and becomes what the aggressor is. The frightening power differential be- 
tween powerful guards and powerless prisoners is psychologically minimized by 
such mental gymnastics. One becomes one with one's enemy — in one's own 
mind. This self-delusion prevents realistic appraisals of one's situation, inhibits ef- 
fective action, coping strategies, or rebellion, and does not permit empathy for 
one's fellow sufferers. 8 

Life is the art of being well-deceived; and in order that the 
deception may succeed it must be habitual and uninterrupted. 

—William Hazlitt, "On Pedantry," The Round Table, 1817 


The Lucifer Effect 


It is time to move from the specific behavioral reactions and personal attributes of 
these young men who enacted the roles of prisoners and guards to consider some 
broader conceptual issues raised by this research and its lessons, meaning, and 

The Virtue of Science 

From one perspective, the SPE does not tell us anything about prisons that sociolo- 
gists, criminologists, and the narratives of prisoners have not already revealed 
about the evils of prison life. Prisons can be brutalizing places that invoke what is 
worst in human nature. They breed more violence and crime than they foster 
constructive rehabilitation. Recidivism rates of 60 percent and higher indicate 
that prisons have become revolving doors for those sentenced for criminal 
felonies. What does the SPE add to our understanding of society 's failed experiment 
of prisons as its instruments of crime control? I think the answer lies in the experi- 
ment's basic protocol. 

In real prisons, defects of the prison situation and those of the people who in- 
habit it are confounded, inextricably intertwined. Recall my first discussion with 
the sergeant in the Palo Alto police station wherein I explained the reason we 
were conducting this research rather than going to a local prison to observe what 
was going on. This experiment was designed to assess the impact of a simulated 
prison situation on those who lived in it, both guards and prisoners. By means of 
various experimental controls, we were able to do a number of things, and draw 
conclusions, that would not have been possible in real-world settings. 

Systematic selection procedures ensured that everyone going into our prison 
was as normal, average, and healthy as possible and had no prior history of anti- 
social behavior, crime, or violence. Moreover, because they were college students, 
they were generally above average in intelligence, lower in prejudice, and more 
confident about their futures than their less educated peers. Then, by virtue of 
random assignment, the key to experimental research, these good people were 
randomly assigned to the role of guard or prisoner, regardless of whatever incli- 
nation they might have had to be the other. Chance ruled. Further experimental 
control involved systematic observation, collection of multiple forms of evidence, 
and statistical data analyses that together could be used to determine the impact 
of the experience within the parameters of the research design. The SPE protocol 
disentangled person from place, disposition from situation, "good apples" from 
"bad barrels." 

We must acknowledge, however, that all research is "artificial," being only 
an imitation of its real-world analogue. Nevertheless, despite the artificiality of 
controlled experimental research like the SPE or that of the social psychological 
studies we will encounter in later chapters, when such research is conducted in 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


sensitive ways that capture essential features of "mundane realism," the results 
can have considerable generalizability.' 

Our prison was obviously not a "real prison" in many of its tangible features, 
but it did capture the central psychological features of imprisonment that I be- 
lieve are central to the "prison experience." To be sure, any finding derived from 
an experiment must raise two questions. First, "Compared to what?" Next, "What 
is its external validity — the real-world parallels that it may help to explain?" The 
value of such research typically lies in its ability to illuminate underlying 
processes, identify causal sequences, and establish the variables that mediate an 
observed effect. Moreover, experiments can establish causal relationships that if 
statistically significant cannot be dismissed as chance connections. 

The pioneering theorist-researcher in social psychology Kurt Lewin argued 
decades ago for a science of experimental social psychology. Lewin asserted that it 
is possible to abstract significant issues from the real world conceptually and prac- 
tically and test them in the experimental laboratory. With well-designed studies 
and carefully executed manipulations of independent variables (the antecedent 
factors used as behavioral predictors), he thought, it was possible to establish cer- 
tain causal relationships in ways that were not possible in field or observational 
studies. However, Lewin went further to advocate using that knowledge to effect 
social change, using research-based evidence to understand as well as attempt to 
change and improve society and human functioning. 10 1 have tried to follow his 
inspiring lead. 

Guard Power Transformations 

Our sense of power is more vivid when we break a man's spirit 
than when we win his heart. 

— Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954) 

Some of our volunteers who were randomly assigned to be guards soon came to 
abuse their newfound power by behaving sadistically — demeaning, degrading, 
and hurting the "prisoners" day in and night out. Their actions fit the psychologi- 
cal definition of evil proposed in chapter 1. Other guards played their role in 
tough, demanding ways that were not particularly abusive, but they showed little 
sympathy for the plight of the suffering inmates. A few guards, who could be clas- 
sified as "good guards," resisted the temptation of power and were at times con- 
siderate of the prisoners' condition, doing little things like giving one an apple, 
another a cigarette, and so on. 

Although vastly different from the SPE in the extent of its horror and com- 
plexity of the system that spawned and sustained it, there is one interesting par- 
allel between the Nazi SS doctors involved in the death camp at Auschwitz and 
our SPE guards. Like our guards, those doctors could be categorized as falling into 
three groups. According to Robert Jay Lifton in Nazi Doctors, there were "zealots 


The Lucifer Effect 

who participated eagerly in the extermination process and even did 'extra work' 
on behalf of killing; those who went about the process more or less methodically 
and did no more or no less than they felt that they had to do; and those who par- 
ticipated in the extermination process only reluctantly."" 

In our study, being a good guard who did his job reluctantly meant "goodness 
by default." Doing minor nice deeds for the prisoners simply contrasted with the 
demonic actions of their shift mates. As noted previously, none of them ever in- 
tervened to prevent the "bad guards" from abusing the prisoners; none com- 
plained to the staff, left their shift early or came to work late, or refused to work 
overtime in emergencies. Moreover, none of them even demanded overtime pay 
for doing tasks they may have found distasteful. They were part of the "Evil of In- 
action Syndrome," which will be discussed more fully later. 

Recall that the best good guard, Geoff Landry, shared the night shift with the 
worst guard, Hellmann, and he never once made any attempt to get him to "chill 
out," never reminded him that this was "just an experiment," that there was no 
need to inflict so much suffering on the kids who were just role-playing prisoners. 
Instead, as we have seen from his personal accounts, Geoff simply suffered in 
silence — along with the prisoners. Had he energized his conscience into con- 
structive action, this good guard might have had a significant impact in mitigat- 
ing the escalating abuse of the prisoners on his shift. 

In my many years of experience teaching at a variety of universities, I have 
found that most students are not concerned with power issues because they have 
enough to get by in their world, where intelligence and hard work get them to 
their goals. Power is a concern when people either have a lot of it and need to 
maintain it or when they have not much power and want to get more. However, 
power itself becomes a goal for many because of all the resources at the disposal 
of the powerful. The former statesman Henry Kissinger described this lure as "the 
aphrodisiac of power." That lure attracts beautiful young women to ugly, old, but 
powerful men. 

Prisoner Pathologies 

Wherever anyone is against his will, that is to him a prison. 
— Epictetus, Discourses, second century A.D. 

Our initial interest was not so much in the guards as in how those assigned the 
prisoner role would adapt to their new lowly, powerless status. Having spent the 
summer enmeshed in the psychology of imprisonment course I had just co- 
taught at Stanford, I was primed to be on their side. Carlo Prescott had filled us 
with vivid tales of abuse and degradation at the hands of guards. From other for- 
mer prisoners, we heard firsthand the horror stories of prisoners sexually abusing 
other prisoners and gang wars. Thus, Craig, Curt, and I were privately pulling for 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


the prisoners, hoping that they would resist any pressures the guards could 
muster against them and maintain their personal dignity despite the external 
signs of inferiority they were forced to wear. I could imagine myself a Paul New- 
man kind of wisely resistant prisoner, as portrayed in the movie Cool Hand Luke. I 
could never imagine myself as his jailor. 12 

We were pleased when the prisoners rebelled so soon, challenging the has- 
sling of the menial tasks the guards assigned them, the arbitrary enforcement of 
rules, and the exhausting count lineups. Their expectations about what they 
would be doing in the "study of prison life" to which our newspaper ad had re- 
cruited them had been violated. They had anticipated a little menial labor for a 
few hours mixed with time to read, relax, play some games, and meet new people. 
That, in fact, was what our preliminary agenda called for — before the prisoners' 
rebellion and before the guards took control of matters. We had even planned to 
have movie nights for them. 

The prisoners were particularly upset by the constant abuse rained on them 
day and night, the lack of privacy and relief from staff surveillance, the arbitrary 
enforcement of rules and random punishments, and being forced to share their 
barren, cramped quarters. When the guards turned to us for help after the rebel- 
lion started, we backed oflF and made it clear that their decisions would prevail. 
We were observers who did not want to intrude. I was not yet fully submerged in 
the superintendent's mentality at that early stage; rather, I was acting as the prin- 
cipal investigator, interested in data on how these mock guards would react to this 

The breakdown of Doug-8612, coming so soon after he had helped to engi- 
neer a rebellion, caught us all off guard, if you will excuse the pun. We were all 
shaken by his shrill voice screaming opposition to everything that was wrong in 
the way the prisoners were being treated. Even when he shouted, "It's a fucking 
simulation, not a prison, and fuck Dr. Zimbargo! " I could not help but admire his 
spunk. We could not bring ourselves to believe that he was really suffering as 
much as he seemed to be. Recall my conversation with him when he first wanted 
to be released and I invited him to consider the option of becoming a "snitch" in 
return for a hassle-free time as a prisoner. 

Recall further that Craig Haney had made the difficult decision to deal with 
Doug-8612's sudden breakdown by releasing him after only thirty-six hours into 
the experiment. 

As experimenters, none of us had predicted an event like this, and, of 
course, we had devised no contingency plan to cover it. On the other hand, 
it was obvious that this young man was more disturbed by his brief expe- 
rience in the Stanford Prison than any of us had expected. . . . So, I decided 
to release Prisoner 8612, going with the ethical, humanitarian decision 
over the experimental one. 


The Lucifer Effect 

How did we explain this violation of our expectations that no one could have 
such a severe stress reaction so quickly? Craig remembers our wrong-headed 
causal attribution: 

We quickly seized on an explanation that felt as natural as it was 
reassuring — he must have broken down because he was weak or had 
some kind of defect in his personality that accounted for his oversensitivity 
and overreaction to the simulated prison conditions ! In fact, we worried 
that there had been a flaw in our screening process that had allowed a 
"damaged" person somehow to slip through undetected. It was only later 
that we appreciated this obvious irony: we had "dispositionally explained" 
the first truly unexpected and extraordinary demonstration of situational 
power in our study by resorting to precisely the kind of thinking we had 
designed the study to challenge and critique.' 5 

Let's go back and review the final reactions to this experience by Doug-8612 
to appreciate his level of confusion at that time: 

"I decided I want out, and then I went to talk to you guys and everything, and 
you said 'No' and you bullshitted me and everything, and I came back and I real- 
ized you were bullshitting me, and that made me mad, so I decided I'm getting out 
and I was going to do anything, and I made up several schemes whereby I could 
get out. The easiest one and that wouldn't hurt anybody or hurt any equipment 
was to just act mad or upset, so I chose that one. When I was in the Hole, I pur- 
posely kind of built it up and I knew that when I went to talk with Jaffe, I didn't 
want to release the energy in the Hole, I wanted to release in front of Jaffe, so I 
knew I'd get out, and then, even while I was being upset, I was manipulating and 
I was being upset, you know — how could you act upset unless you were upset... 
it's like a crazy person can't act crazy unless he really is kinda crazy, you know? I 
don't know whether I was upset or whether I was induced.... I was mad at the 
black guy, and what was his name, Carter? Something like that and you, Dr. Zim- 
bardo, for making the contract like I was a serf or something... and the way you 
played with me afterwards, but what can you do, you had to do that, your people 
had to do it in an experiment.'"* 


Within certain powerful social settings, human nature can be transformed in 
ways as dramatic as the chemical transformation in Robert Louis Stevenson's 
captivating fable of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The enduring interest in the SPE over 
many decades comes, I think, from the experiment's startling revelation of 
"transformation of character" — of good people suddenly becoming perpetrators 
of evil as guards or pathologically passive victims as prisoners in response to 
situational forces acting on them. 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


Good people can be induced, seduced, and initiated into behaving in evil 
ways. They can also be led to act in irrational, stupid, self-destructive, antisocial, 
and mindless ways when they are immersed in "total situations" that impact 
human nature in ways that challenge our sense of the stability and consistency of 
individual personality, of character, and of morality. 15 

We want to believe in the essential, unchanging goodness of people, in their 
power to resist external pressures, in their rational appraisal and then rejection of 
situational temptations. We invest human nature with God-like qualities, with 
moral and rational faculties that make us both just and wise. We simplify the 
complexity of human experience by erecting a seemingly impermeable boundary 
between Good and Evil. On one side are Us, Our Kin, and Our Kind; on the other 
side of that line we cast Them, Their Different Kin, and Other Kind. Paradoxically, 
by creating this myth of our invulnerability to situational forces, we set ourselves 
up for a fall by not being sufficiently vigilant to situational forces. 

The SPE, along with much other social science research (presented in chap- 
ters 12 and 13), reveals a message we do not want to accept: that most of us can 
undergo significant character transformations when we are caught up in the cru- 
cible of social forces. What we imagine we would do when we are outside that 
crucible may bear little resemblance to who we become and what we are capable 
of doing once we are inside its network. The SPE is a clarion call to abandon sim- 
plistic notions of the Good Self dominating Bad Situations. We are best able to 
avoid, prevent, challenge, and change such negative situational forces only by 
recognizing their potential power to "infect us," as it has others who were simi- 
larly situated. It is well for us to internalize the significance of the recognition 
by the ancient Roman comedy writer Terence that "Nothing by humans is alien 

This lesson should have been taught repeatedly by the behavioral transfor- 
mation of Nazi concentration camp guards, and of those in destructive cults, 
such as Jim Jones's Peoples Temple, and more recently by the Japanese Aum 
Shinrikyo cult. The genocide and atrocities committed in Bosnia, Kosovo, 
Rwanda, Burundi, and recently in Sudan's Darfur region also provide strong evi- 
dence of people surrendering their humanity and compassion to social power and 
abstract ideologies of conquest and national security. 

Any deed that any human being has ever committed, however horrible, is 
possible for any of us — under the right or wrong situational circumstances. That 
knowledge does not excuse evil; rather, it democratizes it, sharing its blame 
among ordinary actors rather than declaring it the province only of deviants and 
despots — of Them but not Us. 

The primary simple lesson the Stanford Prison Experiment teaches is that 
situations matter. Social situations can have more profound effects on the behavior 
and mental functioning of individuals, groups, and national leaders than we 
might believe possible. Some situations can exert such powerful influence over us 


The Lucifer Effect 

that we can be led to behave in ways we would not, could not, predict was possible 
in advance." 

Situational power is most salient in novel settings, those in which people can- 
not call on previous guidelines for their new behavioral options. In such situa- 
tions the usual reward structures are different and expectations are violated. 
Under such circumstances, personality variables have little predictive utility be- 
cause they depend on estimations of imagined future actions based on character- 
istic past reactions in familiar situations — but rarely in the kind of new situation 
currently being encountered, say by a new guard or prisoner. 

Therefore, whenever we are trying to understand the cause of any puzzling, 
unusual behavior, our own or that of others, we should start out with a situa- 
tional analysis. We should yield to dispositional analyses (genes, personality 
traits, personal pathologies, and so on) only when the situationally based detec- 
tive work fails to make sense of the puzzle. My colleague Lee Ross adds that such 
an approach invites us to practice "attributional charity." That means we start 
not by blaming the actor for the deed but rather, being charitable, we first investi- 
gate the scene for situational determinants of the act. 

However, attributional charity is easier said than practiced because most of 
us have a powerful mental bias — the "fundamental attribution error" — that pre- 
vents such reasonable thinking." Societies that promote individualism, such as 
the United States and many other Western nations, have come to believe that dis- 
positions matter more than situations. We overemphasize personality in explain- 
ing any behavior while concurrently underemphasizing situational influences. 
After reading this book, I hope you will begin to notice how often you see this dual 
principle in action in your own thinking and in decisions of others. Let's consider 
next some of the features that make situations matter, as illustrated in our prison 

The Power of Rules to Shape Reality 

Situational forces in the SPE combined a number of factors, none of which was 
very dramatic alone but that together were powerful in their aggregation. One of 
the key features was the power of rules. Rules are formal, simplified ways of con- 
trolling informal complex behavior. They work by externalizing regulations, by 
establishing what is necessary, acceptable, and rewarded and what is unaccept- 
able and therefore punished. Over time, rules come to have an arbitrary life of 
their own and the force of legal authority even when they are no longer relevant, 
are vague, or change with the whims of the enforcers. 

Our guards could justify most of the harm they did to the prisoners by refer- 
encing "the Rules." Recall, for example, the agony the prisoners had to endure to 
memorize the set of seventeen arbitrary rules that the guards and the warden had 
invented. Consider also the misuse of Rule 2 about eating at mealtimes to punish 
Clay-416 for refusing to eat his filthy sausages. 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


Some rules are essential for the effective coordination of social behavior, 
such as audiences listening while performers speak, drivers stopping at red traffic 
lights, and people not cutting into queues. However, many rules are merely 
screens for dominance by those who make them or those charged with enforcing 
them. Naturally, the last rule, as with the SPE rules, always includes punishment 
for violation of the other rules. Therefore, there must be someone or some agency 
willing and able to administer such punishment, ideally doing so in a public arena 
that can serve to deter other potential rule breakers. The comedian Lenny Bruce 
had a funny routine describing the development of rules to govern who could and 
could not throw shit over fences onto a neighbor's property. He described the crea- 
tion of police as guardians of the "no-shit-in-my-backyard" rule. The rules and 
their enforcers are inherent in situational power. However, it is the System that 
hires the police and creates the prisons for convicted rule breakers. 

When Roles Become Real 

Once you put a uniform on, and are given a role, I mean, a job, 
saying "your job is to keep these people in line," then you're 
certainly not the same person if you're in street clothes and in a 
different role. You really become that person once you put on 
the khaki uniform, you put on the glasses, you take the 
nightstick, and you act the part. That's your costume and you 
have to act accordingly when you put it on. 

— Guard Hellmann 

When actors enact a fictional character, they often have to take on roles that are 
dissimilar to their sense of personal identity. They learn to talk, walk, eat, and 
even to think and to feel as demanded by the role they are performing. Their pro- 
fessional training enables them to maintain the separation of character and iden- 
tity, to keep self in the background while playing a role that might be dramatically 
different from who they really are. However, there are times when even for some 
trained professionals those boundaries blur and the role takes over even after the 
curtain comes down or the camera's red light goes off. They become absorbed in 
the intensity of the role and their intensity spills over to direct their offstage life. 
The play's audience ceases to matter because the role is now within the actor's 

A fascinating example of this effect of a dramatic role becoming a "tad too 
real" comes from the British television series The Edwardian Country House. Nine- 
teen people, chosen from some eight thousand applicants, lived the lives of British 
servants working on a posh country estate in this "reality television" drama. Al- 
though the person chosen to play the head butler in charge of the staff expected 
to follow the period's rigidly hierarchical standards of behavior, he was "fright- 


The Lucifer Effect 

ened" by the ease with which he became an autocratic master. This sixty-five- 
year-old architect was not prepared to slip so readily into a role that allowed him 
to exercise absolute power over a household of underservants whom he bossed: 
"Suddenly you realize that you don't have to speak. All I had to do was lift my fin- 
ger up and they would keep quiet. And that is a frightening thought — it's ap- 
palling." A young woman who played the role of a housemaid but who in real life 
is a tourist information officer, began to feel like an invisible person. She described 
how she and the others so quickly adapted to their subservient role: "I was sur- 
prised, then scared at the way we all became squashed. We learned so quickly that 
you don't answer back, and you feel subservient." 1 " 

Typically, roles are tied to specific situations, jobs, and functions, such as 
being a professor, doorman, cab driver, minister, social worker, or porn actor. They 
are enacted when one is in that situation — at home, school, church, or factory, or 
onstage. Roles can usually be set aside when one returns to his or her "normal" 
other life. Yet some roles are insidious, are not just scripts that we enact only from 
time to time; they can become who we are most of the time. They are internalized 
even as we initially acknowledge them as artificial, temporary, and situationally 
bound. We become father, mother, son, daughter, neighbor, boss, worker, helper, 
healer, whore, soldier, beggar man, thief, and many more. 

To complicate matters further, we all must play multiple roles, some conflict- 
ing, some that may challenge our basic values and beliefs. As in the SPE, what 
starts out as the "just playing a role" caveat to distinguish it from the real indi- 
vidual can have a profound impact when the role behavior gets rewarded. The 
"class clown" gets attention he can't get from displaying special academic talents 
but then is never again taken seriously. Even shyness can be a role initially en- 
acted to avoid awkward social encounters, a situational awkwardness, and when 
practiced enough the role morphs into a shy person. 

Just as discomfiting, people can do terrible things when they allow the role 
they play to have rigid boundaries that circumscribe what is appropriate, ex- 
pected, and reinforced in a given setting. Such rigidity in the role shuts off the tra- 
ditional morality and values that govern their lives when they are in "normal 
mode." The ego-defense mechanism of compartmentalization allows us to mentally 
bind conflicting aspects of our beliefs and experiences into separate chambers 
that prevent interpretation or cross talk. A good husband can then be a guiltless 
adulterer; a saintly priest can then be a lifelong pederast; a kindly farmer can then 
be a heartless slave master. We need to appreciate the power that role-playing can 
have in shaping our perspectives, for better as well as for worse, as when adopting 
the teacher or nurse role translates into a life of sacrifice for the good of one's stu- 
dents and patients. 

Role Transitions from Healer to Killer 

The worst-case scenario was the Nazi SS doctors who were assigned the role of se- 
lecting concentration camp inmates for extermination or for "experiments." They 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


were socialized away from their usual healing role into the new role, assisting 
with killing, by means of a group consensus that their behavior was necessary for 
the common good, which led them to adopt several extreme psychological de- 
fenses against facing the reality of their complicity in the mass murder of Jews. 
Again we turn to the detailed account of these processes by social psychiatrist 
Robert Jay Lifton. 

When a new doctor would come on the scene and be initially horrified by 
what he witnessed, he would ask: 

"How can these things be done here?" Then there was something like 
a general answer . . . which clarified everything. What is better for him 
[the prisoner] — whether he croaks [verreckt] in shit or goes to heaven 
in [a cloud of] gas? And that settled the whole matter for the initiates 

Mass killing was the unyielding/art of life to which everyone was ex- 
pected to adapt. 

Framing the genocide of the Jews as the "Final Solution" (Endlosung) served 
a dual psychological purpose: "it stood for mass murder without sounding or feel- 
ing like it; and it kept the focus primarily on problem solving." It transformed the 
whole matter into a difficult problem that had to be solved by whatever means 
were necessary to achieve a pragmatic goal. The intellectual exercise deleted emo- 
tions and compassion from the doctor's daily rounds. 

However, their job in selecting inmates for annihilation was both so "oner- 
ous, so associated with extraordinary evil" that these highly educated doctors 
had to utilize every possible psychological defense against avoiding the reality of 
their complicity in these murders. For some, "psychic numbing," detaching affect 
from cognition, became the norm; for others there was a schizophrenic solution 
of "doubling." The polarities of cruelty and decency in the same doctor at differ- 
ent times would "call forth two radically different psychological constellations 
within the self: one based on 'values generally accepted' and the education and 
background of a 'normal person'; the other based on 'this [Nazi-Auschwitz] ide- 
ology with values quite different from those generally accepted.' " These twin ten- 
dencies shifted back and forth from day to day." 

Reciprocal Roles and Their Scripts 

It is also the case that some roles require reciprocal partnerships; for the guard 
role to have meaning, somebody has to play prisoner. One can't be a prisoner un- 
less someone is willing to be the guard. In the SPE, no explicit training was re- 
quired for the performance of roles, no manual of best practices. Recall on Day 1 
the awkwardness of the guards and the prisoners' frivolity as each were feeling 
out their new strange roles. However, very soon, our participants were able to slip 
easily into their roles as the nature of the power differential at the base of the 
guard-prisoner symbiosis became clearer. 


The Lucifer Effect 

The initial script for guard or prisoner role-playing came from the partici- 
pants' own experiences with power and powerlessness, of their observation of in- 
teractions between parents (traditionally, Dad is guard, Mom the prisoner), of 
their responses to the authority of doctors, teachers, and bosses, and finally from 
the cultural inscriptions written upon them by movie accounts of prison life. So- 
ciety had done the training for us. We had only to record the extent of their im- 
provisation with the roles they played — as our data. 

There is abundant evidence that virtually all of our participants at one time 
or another experienced reactions that went well beyond the surface demands of 
role-playing and penetrated the deep structure of the psychology of imprison- 
ment. Initially, some of the guards' reactions were probably influenced by their 
orientation, which outlined the kind of atmosphere we wished to create in order 
to simulate the reality of imprisonment'. But whatever general demands those 
stage settings may have outlined for them to be "good actors," they should not 
have been operative when the guards were in private or believed that we were not 
observing them. 

Postexperimental reports told us that some guards had been especially brutal 
when they were alone with a prisoner on a toilet run outside the Yard, pushing 
him into a urinal or against a wall. The most sadistic behaviors we observed took 
place during the late-night and early-morning shifts, when, as we learned, the 
guards didn't believe that we were observing or recording them, in a sense, when 
the experiment was "off." In addition, we have seen that guard abuse of prison- 
ers escalated to new, higher levels each day despite the prisoners' nonresistance 
and the obvious signs of their deterioration as the full catastrophe of imprison- 
ment was achieved. In one taped interview, a guard laughingly recalled apologiz- 
ing for having pushed a prisoner on the first day, but by Day 4. he thought 
nothing of shoving them around and humiliating them. 

Craig Haney's discerning analysis reveals the transformation in the power 
infusing the guards. Consider this encounter with one of them that took place 
after only a few days into the study: 

Just as with the prisoners, I also had interviewed all of [the guards] before 
the experiment began and felt I had gotten to know them as individuals, 
albeit only briefly. Perhaps because of this, I really felt no hostility toward 
them as the study proceeded and their behavior became increasingly 
extreme and abusive. But it was obvious to me that because I insisted on 
talking privately with the prisoners — ostensibly "counseling" them, and 
occasionally instructed the guards to refrain from their especially harsh 
and gratuitous mistreatment, they now saw me as something of a traitor. 
Thus, describing an interaction with me. one of the guards wrote in his 
diary: "The psychologist rebukes me for handcuffing and blindfolding a 
prisoner before leaving the (counseling) office, and I resentfully reply that 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


it is both necessary (for) security and my business anyway." Indeed, he had 
told me off. In a bizarre turn of events. I was put in my place for failing to 
uphold the emerging norms of a simulated environment I had helped to 
create by someone whom I had randomly assigned to his role." 1 

In considering the possible biasing of the guard orientation, we are reminded 
that the prisoners had no orientation at all. What did they do when they were in 
private and could escape the oppression they repeatedly experienced on the Yard? 
Rather than getting to know one another and discussing nonprison realities, we 
learned that they obsessed about the vicissitudes of their current situation. They 
embellished their prisoner role rather than distancing from it. So, too, with our 
guards: information we gathered about them when they were in their quarters 
preparing to enter or leave a shift reveals that they rarely exchanged personal, 
nonprison information. Instead, they talked about "problem prisoners," upcom- 
ing prison issues, reactions to our staff — never the usual guy stuff that college 
students might have been expected to share during a break. They did not tell 
jokes, laugh, or reveal any personal emotion to their peers, which they easily 
could have done to lighten the situation or distance themselves from the role. Re- 
call Christina Maslach's earlier description of the transformation of the sweet, 
sensitive young man she had just met into the brutish John Wayne once he was in 
uniform and in his power spot on the Yard. 

Adult Role-Playing in the SPE 

I want to add two final points about the power of roles and the use of roles to jus- 
tify transgression before moving to our final lessons. Let's go beyond the roles our 
volunteers played to recall the roles played to the hilt by the visiting Catholic 
priest, the head of our Parole Board, the public defender, and the parents on Vis- 
iting Nights. The parents not only accepted our show of the prison situation as be- 
nign and interesting rather than hostile and destructive, but they allowed us to 
impose a set of arbitrary rules on them, as we had done to their children, to con- 
strain their behavior. We counted on their playing the embedded roles of con- 
forming, law-abiding, middle-class citizens who respect authority and rarely 
challenge the system directly. Similarly, we knew that our middle-class prisoners 
were unlikely to jump the guards directly even when they were desperate and out- 
numbered them by as much as nine to two, when a guard was off the Yard. Such 
violence was not part of their learned role behavior, as it might have been with 
lower-class participants, who would be more likely to take matters into their own 
hands. There was not even evidence that the prisoners even fantasized such physi- 
cal attacks. 

The reality of any role depends on the support system that demands it and 
keeps it in bounds, not allowing alternate reality to intrude. Recall that when the 
mother of Prisoner Rich- 103 7 complained about his sad state. I spontaneously 


The Lucifer Effect 

activated my Institutional Authority role and challenged her observation, imply- 
ing that there must have been a personal problem with 1037, not an operational 
problem with our prison. 

In retrospect, my role transformation from usually compassionate teacher to 
data-focused researcher to callous prison superintendent was most distressing. I 
did improper or bizarre things in that new, strange role, such as undercutting this 
mother's justified complaints and becoming agitated when the Palo Alto police of- 
ficer refused my request to move our prisoners to the city jail. I think that because 
I so fully adopted the role it helped to make the prison "work" as well as it did. 
However, by adopting that role, with its focus on the security and maintenance of 
"my prison," I failed to appreciate the need to terminate the experiment as soon as 
the second prisoner went over the edge. 

Roles and Responsibility for Transgressions 

To the extent that we can both live in the skin of a role and yet be able to separate 
ourselves from it when necessary, we are in a position to "explain away" our per- 
sonal responsibility for the damage we cause by our role-based actions. We abdi- 
cate responsibility for our actions, blaming them on that role, which we convince 
ourselves is alien to our usual nature. This is an interesting variant of the Nurem- 
berg Trial defense of the Nazi SS leaders: "I was only following orders." Instead 
the defense becomes "Don't blame me, I was only playing my role at that time in 
that place — that isn't the real me." 

Remember Hellmann's justification for his abusive behavior toward Clay- 
416 that he described in their television interview. He argued that he had been 
conducting "little experiments of my own" to see how far he could push the pris- 
oners so that they might rebel and stand up for their rights. In effect, he was 
proposing that he had been mean to stimulate them to be good; their rebellion 
would be his primary reward for being so cruel. Where is the fallacy in this post 
hoc justification? It can be readily exposed in how he handled the sausage rebel- 
lion by Clay-416 and Sarge's "bastard" rebellion; not with admiration for their 
standing up for rights or principles but rather with rage and more extreme abuse. 
Here Guard Hellmann was using the full power of being the ultimate guard, able 
to go beyond the demands of the situation to create his own "little experiment" to 
satisfy his personal curiosity and amusement. 

In a recent interview with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times on a retro- 
spective investigation of the aftermath of the SPE, Hellmann and Doug-8612 
both offered the same reasoning for why they acted as they did, the one being 
"cruel," the other "crazy" — they were merely acting those roles to please Zim- 
bardo. !1 Could be? Maybe they were acting new parts in the Japanese movie 
Roshomon, where everyone has a different view of what really happened. 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


Anonymity and Deindividuation 

In addition to the power of rules and roles, situational forces mount in power with 
the introduction of uniforms, costumes, and masks, all disguises of one's usual 
appearance that promote anonymity and reduce personal accountability. When 
people feel anonymous in a situation, as if no one is aware of their true identity 
(and thus that no one probably cares), they can more easily be induced to behave 
in antisocial ways. This is especially so if the setting grants permission to enact 
one's impulses or to follow orders or implied guidelines that one would usually 
disdain. Our silver reflecting sunglasses were one such tool for making the guards, 
the warden, and me seem more remote and impersonal in our dealings with the 
prisoners. Their uniforms gave the guards a common identity, as did the necessity 
of referring to them in the abstract as, "Mr. Correctional Officer." 

A body of research (to be explored in a later chapter) documents the excesses 
to which deindividuation facilitates violence, vandalism, and stealing in adults as 
in children — when the situation supports such antisocial actions. You may recog- 
nize this process in literature as William Golding's Lord of the Flies. When all 
members of a group of individuals are in a deindividuated state, their mental 
functioning changes: they live in an expanded-present moment that makes past 
and future distant and irrelevant. Feelings dominate reason, and action domi- 
nates reflection. In such a state, the usual cognitive and motivational processes 
that steer their behavior in socially desirable paths no longer guide people. In- 
stead, their Apollonian rationality and sense of order yield to Dionysian excess 
and even chaos. Then it becomes as easy to make war as to make love, without 
considering the consequences 

I am reminded of a Vietnamese saying, attributed to the Buddhist monk 
Thich Nhat Hanh: "in order to fight each other, baby chicks of the same mother 
hen paint their faces different colors." It is a quaint way to describe the role of 
deindividuation in facilitating violence. It is worth noticing, as we shall see, that 
one of the guards in the infamous Tier 1 A at Abu Ghraib's torture center painted 
his face silver and black in the pattern of the rock group Insane Clown Posse, 
while he was on duty and posed for one of the many photos that documented pris- 
oner abuse. We will have much more to say later about deindividuation processes 
as they contributed to the Abu Ghraib abuses. 

Cognitive Dissonance That Rationalizes Evil 

An interesting consequence of playing a role publicly that is contrary to one's pri- 
vate beliefs is the creation of cognitive dissonance. When there is a discrepancy be- 
tween our behavior and beliefs, and when actions do not follow from relevant 
attitudes, a condition of cognitive dissonance is created. Dissonance is a state of 
tension that can powerfully motivate change either in one's public behavior or in 
one's private views in efforts to reduce the dissonance. People will go to remark- 


The Lucifer Effect 

performance. Thus, this group of ordinary pupils proved the "Pygmalion Effect" 
by becoming what they were expected to be — academically outstanding. Sadly, 
the opposite is likely to occur even more frequently when teachers expect poor 
performance from certain kinds of pupils — from minority backgrounds or in 
some classes even from male students. Teachers then unconsciously treat them in 
ways that validate those negative stereotypes, and those students performing less 
well than they are capable. 

In the SPE, the student volunteers could have elected to quit at any time. No 
guns or legal statutes bound them to their imprisonment, only a subject selection 
form on which they promised to do their best to last the full two weeks. The con- 
tract was merely a research contract between university researchers, a university 
human subjects research committee, and university students — all assumed ini- 
tially that they could exercise free will and leave whenever they chose not to con- 
tinue. However, as was obvious in the events that unfolded on the second day, the 
prisoners came to believe that it was a prison being run by psychologists and not 
by the State. They persuaded themselves, based on the quip by Doug-8612, that 
no one could leave of his own volition. Thus, none of them ever said, "I quit this 
experiment." Instead, the exit strategy for many became the passive one of forc- 
ing us to release them because of their extreme psychological distress. Their social 
construction of this new reality cemented them in the oppressive situation being 
created by the guards' capricious and hostile actions. The prisoners themselves 
became their own guards. 

Another aspect of the way social reality was constructed in this research lies 
in the "release deal" that prisoners were offered at the end of their parole hearing. 
We framed the situation in terms of the power of the parole board to grant a pa- 
role if a prisoner were willing to forfeit all the money he had earned as a "pris- 
oner." Even though most acquiesced to this deal, being willing to leave without 
any remuneration for the days they had in fact worked as "research subjects," 
none made the slightest attempt to leave at that point — to quit "the experiment." 
Instead, they accepted the social reality of parole over that of personal liberty to 
act in one's best self-interest. Each one allowed himself to be handcuffed, his head 
hooded, and led away from this near freedom back down to the prison dungeon. 

Dehumanization: The Other as Nothing Worthwhile 

Kill a Gook for God 

— Penned on helmet of a U.S. soldier in Vietnam 

One of the worst things that we can do to our fellow human beings is deprive 
them of their humanity, render them worthless by exercising the psychological 
process of dehumanization. This occurs when the "others" are thought not to 
possess the same feelings, thoughts, values, and purposes in life that we do. Any 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


human qualities that these "others" share with us are diminished or are erased 
from our awareness. This is accomplished by the psychological mechanisms of 
intellectualization, denial, and the isolation of affect. In contrast to human rela- 
tionships, which are subjective, personal, and emotional, dehumanized relation- 
ships are objectifying, analytical, and empty of emotional or empathic content. 

To use Martin Buber's terms, humanized relationships are "I-Thou," while 
dehumanized relationships are "I — It." Over time, the dehumanizing agent is often 
sucked into the negativity of the experience, and then the "I" itself changes, to 
produce an "It-It" relationship between objects, or between agency and victim. 
The misperception of certain others as subhuman, bad humans, inhuman, infra- 
human, dispensable, or "animals" is facilitated by means of labels, stereotypes, 
slogans, and propaganda images." 

Sometimes dehumanization serves an adaptive function for an agent who 
must suspend his or her usual emotional response in an emergency, a crisis, or a 
work situation that demands invading the privacy of others. Surgeons may have 
to do so when performing operations that violate another person's body, as may 
first responders to a disaster. The same is often true when a job requires process- 
ing large numbers of people in one's caseload or daily schedule. Within some car- 
ing professions, such as clinical psychology, social work, and medicine, this 
process is called "detached concern." The actor is put into the paradoxical posi- 
tion of having to dehumanize clients in order to better assist or cure them." 

Dehumanization typically facilitates abusive and destructive actions toward 
those so objectified. It is hard to imagine that the following characterizations 
made by our guards were directed toward their prisoners — other college students 
who, but for a fateful coin flip, would have been wearing their uniforms: "I made 
them call each other names and clean toilets out with their bare hands. I practi- 
cally considered the prisoners cattle, and I kept thinking I have to watch out for 
them in case they try something." 

Or, from another of the SPE guards: "I was tired of seeing the prisoners in 
their rags and smelling the strong odors of their bodies that filled the cells. I 
watched them tear at each other on orders given by us." 

The Stanford Prison Experiment created an ecology of dehumanization, just 
as real prisons do, in a host of direct, constantly repeated messages. It started with 
the loss of freedom and extended to the loss of privacy and finally to the loss of 
personal identity. It separated inmates from their past, their community, and their 
families and substituted for their normal reality a current reality that forced them 
to live with other prisoners in an anonymous cell with virtually no personal 
space. External, coercive rules and arbitrary decisions by guards dictated their be- 
havior. More subtly, in our prison, as in all prisons I know about, emotions were 
suppressed, inhibited, and distorted. Tender, caring emotions were absent among 
both guards and prisoners after only a few days. 

In institutional settings, the expression of human emotions is contained to 


The Lucifer Effect 

the extent that they represent impulsive, often unpredictable individual reactions 
when uniformity of mass reactions is the expected norm. Our prisoners were de- 
humanized in many ways by the treatment of the guards and by degrading insti- 
tutional procedures. However, they soon added to their own dehumanization by 
suppressing their emotional responses except when they "broke down." Emotions 
are essential to humanness. Holding emotions in check is essential in prisons be- 
cause emotions are a sign of weakness that reveal one's vulnerability both to the 
guards and to other prisoners. We will explore more fully the destructive effects of 
dehumanization as it relates to moral disengagement in chapter 13. 


What transformed our experiment into a major example of the psychology of evil 
was a series of dramatic, unexpected events that occurred shortly after our study 
ended — a massacre at California's San Quentin State Prison and a massacre at 
New York State's Attica Correctional Facility. These two events helped to catapult 
into national prominence a little academic experiment designed to test a theoreti- 
cal notion of situational power. Here I will only outline key aspects of these events 
and their consequences for the SPE and me. Please see for 
a fuller treatment of the details along with the concurrent rise of the Black Pan- 
ther Party and the Weather Underground radical student group. 

The day after the SPE was terminated, a number of guards and prisoners 
were killed at San Quentin Prison in an alleged escape attempt headed by the 
black political prison activist George Jackson. Three weeks later, across the coun- 
try in upstate New York, prisoners rioted at Attica Prison. They took over the 
prison and held nearly forty guards and civilian staff as hostages for five days. In- 
stead of negotiating the prisoners' demands to change their conditions of oppres- 
sion and the dehumanization they were experiencing, New York Governor Nelson 
Rockefeller ordered state troopers to retake the prison by all means necessary. 
They shot and killed more than forty of the inmates and hostages in the yard and 
wounded many others. The temporal proximity of these two events put prison 
conditions on center stage. I was invited to give testimonies to several congres- 
sional committees based on extensions of what I had learned from the SPE to pris- 
ons in general. I also became an expert witness for one of the six prisoners 
involved in the San Quentin State Prison massacre. Around that time, a media 
correspondent who saw me in a televised debate with San Quentin's associate 
warden decided to do a documentary on the SPE on national television (NBC's 
Chronolag, November 1971). A Life magazine feature soon followed, and the SPE 
was off and running. 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 



To appreciate more fully the extent of the character transformations in our stu- 
dent prisoners and guards that were induced by their experience in our mock 
prison, it is well to consider the Zeitgeist of the late 196 0s and early 1970s. It was 
a time to reject authority, to "trust no one over thirty," to oppose the "military/ 
industrial establishment," to participate in antiwar rallies, to join in civil rights 
and women's rights causes. It was a time for young people to rebel against the 
rigid societal and parental conformity that had so restricted their parents in the 
1950s. It was a time to experiment with sex, drugs, and rock and roll and to let 
your hair grow long, "to let it all hang out." It was a time to be a "hippie," to go to 
"be-ins" and "love-ins," to be a San Francisco "flower child" with flowers in your 
hair, to be a pacifist, and especially to be an individualist. The Harvard psycholo- 
gist Timothy Leary, that generation's intellectual acid guru, offered a triple pre- 
scription for young people everywhere: "tune out" of traditional society; "turn 
on" to mind-altering drugs; and "tune in" to one's inner nature. 

The rise of the Youth Culture, with its dramatic rebellion against injustice 
and oppression, was centered on the immorality of the Vietnam War, its obscene 
daily body counts, and an administration unwilling to admit its error, cut bait and 
exit for seven bloody years. These values were in the wind blowing across 
European and Asian youth movements. Europeans were even more militant than 
their American counterparts in vigorously challenging the establishment. They 
openly rebelled against both political and academic orthodoxy. In direct opposi- 
tion to what they considered reactionary, repressive regimes, students in Paris, 
Berlin, and Milan "manned the barricades." Many were socialists who challenged 
fascist and Communist totalitarianism, and they deplored the financial restric- 
tions on access to higher education. 

The student volunteers in our study, as a group, emerged from this youth cul- 
ture of rebellion, personal experimentation, and the rejection of authority and 
conformity. We might have expected the subjects in our experiment to be more re- 
sistant to institutional forces than they were, to resist complying with the domi- 
nance of the "System" that I imposed on them. We did not anticipate that they 
would adopt such a power-prone mentality when they became guards because 
none of our volunteers preferred to be a guard when he was given that option. 
Even Tough Guard Hellmann wanted to be a prisoner rather than a guard, be- 
cause, as he told us, "most people resent guards." 

Virtually all of our student volunteers felt that becoming a prisoner was a 
more likely possibility for them in the future; they were not going to college in 
order to get jobs as prison guards, and they might get arrested for various minor 
infractions someday. I take this to mean that there was not a predilection among 
those assigned to be guards to be abusive or domineering in the ways they later 


The Lucifer Effect 

were. They did not bring into the Stanford Prison Experiment any tendencies to 
harm, abuse, or dominate others. If anything, we might say they brought in ten- 
dencies to be caring of other people in accordance with the contemporary social 
conditioning of their era. Similarly, there was no reason to expect the students 
role-playing prisoners to break down so quickly, if at all, given their initially posi- 
tive mental and physical health. It is important to keep this temporal and cultural 
context in mind when considering later attempted replications of our study by 
researchers in totally different eras. 


The most important lesson to be derived from the SPE is that Situations are cre- 
ated by Systems. Systems provide the institutional support, authority, and re- 
sources that allow Situations to operate as they do. After we have outlined all the 
situational features of the SPE, we discover that a key question is rarely posed: 
"Who or what made it happen that way?" Who had the power to design the be- 
havioral setting and to maintain its operation in particular ways? Therefore, who 
should be held responsible for its consequences and outcomes? Who gets the 
credit for successes, and who is blamed for failures? The simple answer in the case 
of the SPE is — me ! However, finding that answer is not such a simple matter when 
we deal with complex organizations, such as failing educational or correctional 
systems, corrupt megacorporations, or the system that was created at Abu 
Ghraib Prison. 

System Power involves authorization or institutionalized permission to be- 
have in prescribed ways or to forbid and punish actions that are contrary to them. 
It provides the "higher authority" that gives validation to playing new roles, fol- 
lowing new rules, and taking actions that would ordinarily be constrained by pre- 
existing laws, norms, morals, and ethics. Such validation usually comes cloaked 
in the mantle of ideology. Ideology is a slogan or proposition that usually legiti- 
mizes whatever means are necessary to attain an ultimate goal. Ideology is the 
"Big Kahuna," which is not challenged or even questioned because it is so appar- 
ently "right" for the majority in a particular time and place. Those in authority 
present the program as good and virtuous, as a highly valuable moral imperative. 

The programs, policies, and standard operating procedures that are devel- 
oped to support an ideology become an essential component of the System. The 
System's procedures are considered reasonable and appropriate as the ideology 
comes to be accepted as sacred. 

During the era when fascist military juntas governed around the world from 
the Mediterranean to Latin America, from the 1960s to 1970s, dictators always 
sounded their call to arms as the necessary defense against a "threat to national 
security" allegedly posed by socialists or Communists. Eliminating that threat ne- 
cessitated state-sanctioned torture by the military and civil police. It also legiti- 
mized assassination by death squads of all suspected "enemies of the state." 

The SPE's Meaning and Messages 


In the United States at the present time, the same alleged threats to national 
security have frightened citizens into willingly sacrificing their basic civil rights to 
gain an illusion of security. That ideology in turn has been the centerpiece justify- 
ing a preemptive war of aggression against Iraq. That ideology was created by the 
System in power, which in turn created new subordinate Systems of war manage- 
ment, homeland security management, and military prison management — or 
absence thereof, in default of serious postwar planning. 

My scholarly fascination with the mind control strategy and tactics outlined 
in George Orwell's classic novel 1984'" should have made me aware of System 
power sooner in my professional life. "Big Brother" is the System that ultimately 
crushes individual initiative and the will to resist its intrusions. For many years, 
discussion of the SPE did not even include a Systems-level analysis because the 
original dialogue was framed as the contest between the dispositional and situa- 
tional ways of understanding human behavior. I ignored the bigger problem of 
considering that framing provided by the System. It was really only after I became 
engaged in understanding the dynamics of the widespread abuses in the many 
military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba that the Systems level of analysis 
became glaringly obvious. 

The Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman showed that the tragic disas- 
ter of the space shuttle Challenger was due not to human error but to a systemic 
problem with "official management." NASA's top guns insisted on the launch de- 
spite the doubts of both of their engineers and the expressed concerns of the 
manufacturer of a critical component (which became the flawed O-ring that 
caused the disaster). Feynman argues that NASA's motivation may well have been 
"to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the 
supply of funds."" In later chapters, we will adopt the point of view that Systems 
as well as Situations matter to aid in our understanding of what went wrong at 
the Stanford and Abu Ghraib Prisons. 

In contrast to NASA's system that failed when it tried to live up to its politi- 
cally motivated slogan of "faster, better, cheaper" was the horrific success of the 
Nazi system of mass extermination. Here was a tightly integrated top-down 
system of Hitler's cabinet, the National Socialist politicians, bankers, Gestapo 
officers, SS troops, engineers, doctors, architects, chemists, educators, train con- 
ductors, and more, each doing its part in this concentrated attempt at the geno- 
cide of all European Jews and other enemies of the State. 

Concentration camps had to be built, along with extermination camps and 
their specifically designed crematoria, and new forms of lethally effective poison 
gas had to be perfected. Propaganda specialists had to design campaigns in film, 
newspapers, magazines, and posters that denigrated and dehumanized the Jews 
as a menace. Teachers and preachers had to prepare the youth to become blindly 
obedient Nazis who could justify engaging in the "final solution of the Jewish 
question." 1 " 

A new language had to be developed with innocuous-sounding words con- 


The Lucifer Effect 

cealing the truth of human cruelty and destruction, such as: Sonderbehandlung 
(special treatment); Sonderaktion (special action), Umsiedlung (resettlement), and 
Evakuierrung (evacuation). "Special treatment" was the code name for the physi- 
cal extermination of people, sometimes shortened to SB for efficiency SS head 
Reinhard Heydrich outlined basic principles of security during the war in a 19 3 9 
statement: "A distinction must be made between those who may be dealt with in 
the usual way and those who must be given special treatment [Sonderbehandlung]. 
The latter case covers subjects who, due to their most objectionable nature, their 
dangerousness, or their ability to serve as tools of propaganda for the enemy, are 
suitable for elimination, without respect for persons, by merciless treatment (usu- 
ally by execution). " = " 

For the Nazi doctors who were enlisted to make the selections of inmates for 
extermination or experimentation, there was often a question of split loyalty — "of 
conflicting oaths, contradictions between murderous cruelty and momentary 
kindness which SS doctors seemed to manifest continuously during their time in 
Auschwitz. For the schism tended not to be resolved. Its persistence was part of 
the overall psychological equilibrium that enabled the SS doctor to do his deadly 
work. He became integrated into a large, brutal, highly functional system. . . . 
Auschwitz was a collective effort."" 


The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 

We've traveled too far, and our momentum has taken over: We 
move idly towards eternity, without possibility of reprieve or 
hope of explanation. 

— Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and 
Guildenstern Are Dead, Act 3 (1967) 

We have seen the way in which the momentum of the simulated Stanford 
Prison took over the lives of those within its walls — mostly for the worse. In the 
previous chapter, I sketched a rough answer to the question of how people could 
be so swiftly and radically transformed. In particular, I pointed out the ways in 
which situational and systemic forces operated in tandem to spoil the fruits of 
human nature. 

Our young research participants were not the proverbial "Bad Apples" in an 
otherwise good barrel. Rather, our experimental design ensured that they were 
initially good apples and were corrupted by the insidious power of the bad barrel, 
this prison. Of course, compared to the toxic and lethal nature of real civilian and 
military prisons, our Stanford Prison was relatively benign. The changes in the 
ways our volunteer participants thought, felt, and behaved in this environment 
were the consequences of known psychological processes that operate on all of us 
in various ways in many situations — albeit not so intensely, pervasively, and re- 
lentlessly. They were enmeshed in a "total situation" whose impact was greater 
than most ordinary situations that we move into and out of repeatedly at will. 1 

Consider the possibility that each of us has the potential, or mental tem- 
plates, to be saint or sinner, altruistic or selfish, gentle or cruel, submissive or 
dominant, sane or mad, good or evil. Perhaps we are born with a full range of ca- 
pacities, each of which is activated and developed depending on the social and 
cultural circumstances that govern our lives. I will argue that the potential for 
perversion is inherent in the very processes that make human beings do all the 
wonderful things we do. Each of us is the end product of the complex develop- 
ment and specialization that have grown out of millions of years of evolution, 
growth, adaptation, and coping. Our species has reached its special place on 
Earth because of our remarkable capacity for learning, for language, for reason- 
ing, for inventing, and for imagining new and better futures. Every human being 


The Lucifer Effect 

has the potential to perfect the skills, talents, and attributes we need to go beyond 
surviving to thrive in and enhance our human condition. 


Could some of the world's evil result from ordinary people operating in circum- 
stances that selectively elicit bad behavior from their natures? Let's answer such a 
question with a few general examples and then refocus on the normal human 
processes that became degraded in the SPE. Memory enables us to profit from mis- 
takes and build upon the known to create better futures. However, with memory 
come grudges, revenge, learned helplessness, and the rumination over trauma 
that feeds depression. Likewise, our extraordinary ability to use language and 
symbols enables us to communicate with others personally, abstractly, over time 
and place. Language provides the foundation for history, planning, and social 
control. However, with language come rumors, lies, propaganda, stereotypes, 
and coercive rules. Our remarkable creative genius leads to great literature, 
drama, music, science, and inventions like the computer and the Internet. Yet 
that same creativity can be perverted into inventing torture chambers and tor- 
ture tactics, into paranoid ideologies and the Nazis' efficient system of mass mur- 
der. Any one of our special attributes contains the possibility of its opposite 
negative, as in the dichotomies of love-hate; pride-arrogance; self-esteem- 
self-loathing. 2 

The fundamental human need to belong comes from the desire to associate 
with others, to cooperate, to accept group norms. However, the SPE shows that 
the need to belong can also be perverted into excessive conformity, compliance, 
and in-group versus out-group hostility. The need for autonomy and control, the 
central forces toward self-direction and planning, can be perverted into an exces- 
sive exercise of power to dominate others or into learned helplessness. 

Consider three more such needs that can cut both ways. First, needs for consis- 
tency and rationality give meaningful and wise direction to our lives. Yet dissonant 
commitments force us to honor and rationalize wrong-headed decisions, such as 
prisoners remaining when they should have quit and guards justifying their 
abuse. Second, needs to know and to understand our environment and our relationship 
to it lead to curiosity, scientific discovery, philosophy, the humanities, and art. But 
a capricious, arbitrary environment that does not make sense can pervert those 
basic needs and lead to frustration and self-isolation (as it did in our prisoners). 
And finally, our need for stimulation triggers explorations and adventurous risk 
taking, but it can also make us vulnerable to boredom when we are placed in a 
static setting. Boredom, in turn, can become a powerful motivator of actions as 
we saw with the SPE night shift guards to have fun with their "playthings." 

However, let me make clear one critical point: understanding the "why" of 
what was done does not excuse "what" was done. Psychological analysis is not 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


"excusiology." Individuals and groups who behave immorally or illegally must 
still be held responsible and legally accountable for their complicity and crimes. 
However, in determining the severity of their sentence, the situational and sys- 
temic factors that caused their behavior must be taken into account.' 

In the next two chapters, we will move beyond the SPE to review a large body 
of psychological research that complements and extends the arguments made so 
far about the power of situational forces in shaping human thinking and acting. 
Before moving on, we have go back to deal with some final, critical issues that 
were raised by this experiment. First, and most important, was the suffering 
worth it? There is no question that people suffered during this experiment. Those 
who made them suffer also had to deal with the recognition that they had gone 
beyond the demands of their role to inflict pain and humiliation on others for 
hours on end. Therefore, the ethics in this and similar research demand careful 

Virtue, as Dante showed in the Inferno, is not simply refraining from sin; it re- 
quires action. Here I will discuss how paralysis of action worked in the SPE. In the 
next chapter, I will consider the broader implications of failure to act for society, 
as when passive bystanders fail to intervene when their help is needed. 

In addition to dealing with the ethical errors of omission and with absolute 
ethics, we must focus in depth on the relative ethics that guide most scientific re- 
search. A central balance in the equation of relative ethics requires weighing pain 
against gain. Was the pain endured by the participants in this experiment offset 
by the gain to science and society generated by the research? In other words, did 
the scientific ends justify the experimental means? While there were many posi- 
tive consequences that flowed from the study, the reader will have to decide for 
him or herself whether the study should ever have been done. 

Research that provokes thought breeds other research and invites exten- 
sions, as the SPE did. After reflecting on the SPE's ethics, we will briefly review 
some of the replications and applications of this study that offer a broader context 
for appreciating its significance. 


Was the SPE study unethical? In several ways, the answer must surely be "Yes." 
However, there are other ways of viewing this research that provide a reasonable 
"No." Before we look at evidence in this retrospective analysis in support of each 
of these alternatives, I need to make clear why I am even discussing these matters 
decades after the study is over and done. Having focused much personal attention 
on these ethical issues, I believe that I can bring a broader perspective to this dis- 
cussion than is typical. Other researchers may benefit by avoiding similar pitfalls 
if they become aware of some subtle warning signs, and also by engaging greater 
sensitivity to ethical safeguards that the SPE highlighted. Without being defen- 


The Lucifer Effect 

sive or rationalizing my role in this study, I will use this research as a vehicle for 
outlining the complexity of ethical judgments involved in research that entails in- 
terventions in human functioning. First, let us consider the category of the ethics 
of intervention. That will provide a foundation for comparing absolute ethics to 
the relative ethics that guide experimental research. 

The Ethics of Intervention 

Every act of intervention in the life of an individual, a group, or an environment 
is a matter of ethics (the radical therapist R. D. Laing would say it is a "political de- 
cision"). The following diverse groups share common objectives: therapists, sur- 
geons, counselors, experimentalists, educators, urban planners, architects, social 
reformers, public health agents, cult leaders, used-car salespeople, and our par- 
ents. They all subscribe to one of these objectives: cure, behavior modification, 
recommendations for action, training, teaching, mind alteration, control, change, 
monetary allocation, construction, or discipline — in sum, various forms of inter- 
vention that directly affect our lives or do so indirectly by changing human envi- 

Most agents of intervention initially intend benefits to the target of change 
and/or society. However, it is their subjective values that determine the cost- 
benefit ratio and raise critical ethical questions for us to consider. We take for 
granted the value of the powerful socializing influences parents exert on their 
children in shaping them to their image and toward a socially, politically, and re- 
ligiously imposed ideal. Should we care that parents do so without obtaining their 
children's informed consent? Seems like an idle question until one considers par- 
ents who help indoctrinate their children into hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, 
destructive cults, or terrorist cells, or into prostitution. 

To put a finer point on the issue, "parental rights of domain" are usually not 
questioned — even when they teach children intolerance and prejudice — except 
when parents are excessively abusive in getting their way. But what can we say 
about the case of a father who wanted his son to be more patriotic, ostensibly a 
reasonable goal in almost all societies? The father in question wrote to a medical 
doctor whose advice column ran in a nationally circulated magazine: "I love my 
country and want my boy to love it too. Is it O.K. for me to give him a little pep talk 
while he's asleep; no big deal, just some patriotic stuff?" 

At one level, Dad is asking if this tactic will work; is there evidence that sleep 
learning can be effective in delivering such below-consciousness persuasive mes- 
sages? (The answer is that there is no supporting evidence.) At another level, Dad 
is raising an ethical question: Is it ethical for him to indoctrinate his defenseless 
child in this way? Would it be ethical if he did so when the child was awake or if 
he used monetary reinforcement or social approval instead of this dubious tech- 
nique? Is it his goal or his means that some might find ethically offensive? Would 
it be preferable instead for this anxious father to rely upon the more subtle indoc- 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


trination devices that are disguised as "education" in the classroom: national 
flags; pictures of national leaders; national anthems; prayers; and being forced to 
read historical narratives and geography and civics textbooks that often give a bi- 
ased view of history and are designed by every society as propaganda to maintain 
the status quo? The point here is that we must increase our collective sensitivity to 
the broad range of daily situations where interventions occur as a "natural" 
process of social life and where a violation of ethics goes unnoticed because of its 
prevalent and insidious presence. 


For the sake of brevity, we may say that ethics can be categorized as "absolute" or 
"relative." When behavior is guided by absolute ethical standards, a higher-order 
moral principle that is invariant with regard to the conditions of its applicability 
can be postulated — across time, situations, persons, and expediency. Such ab- 
solute ethics are embodied in communal codes of conduct. These codes are often 
based upon adherence to a set of explicit principles, as in the Ten Commandments 
or the Bill of Rights. Such absolute ethics allow no degree of freedom that might 
justify means to an end or circumstances that might qualify instances where the 
principle is suspended or applied in an altered, watered-down form. In the ex- 
treme, no extenuating circumstances can justify an abrogation of the ethical 

An absolute ethical standard postulates that because human life is sacred it 
must not in any way be demeaned, however unintentionally. In the case of re- 
search, there is no justification for any experiment that induces human suffering. 
From such a position, it is even reasonable to maintain that no research should be 
conducted in psychology or medicine that violates the biological or psychological 
integrity of any human being regardless of the benefit that might, or even defi- 
nitely accrue to the society at large. 

Those who adopt this perspective argue that even if the actions that cause 
suffering are conducted in the name of science, for the sake of knowledge, "na- 
tional security," or any other high-flying abstraction — they are unethical. Within 
psychology, those closely identified with the humanist tradition have been most 
vocal in urging that the basic concern for human dignity must take precedence 
over the stated goals of the discipline, namely, to predict and control behavior. 

The SPE Was Absolutely Unethical 

On the basis of such an absolute ethic, the Stanford Prison Experiment must cer- 
tainly be judged unethical because human beings did suffer considerable an- 
guish. People suffered much more than they could have reasonably anticipated 
when they volunteered for an academic study of "prison life" that was being con- 
ducted at a prestigious university. Moreover, that suffering escalated over time 


The Lucifer Effect 

and resulted in such extreme stress and emotional turmoil that five of the sample 
of initially healthy young prisoners had to be released early. 

The guards also suffered from the realization of what they had done under 
the cloak of their role and behind their anonymity-engendering sunglasses. They 
could see and hear the pain and humiliation they were causing to fellow students 
who had done nothing to deserve such brutality. Their realization of their unde- 
niably excessive abuse of the prisoners was much greater than the distress experi- 
enced by participants in Stanley Milgram's classic research on "blind obedience to 
authority," which we will review in depth in the next chapter. 4 That research has 
been challenged as unethical because participants could imagine the pain they 
were supposedly inflicting by shocking a remote victim, the "learner."' But as 
soon as the study ended they discovered that the "victim" was really an experi- 
mental confederate who had never been hurt but only pretended to be. Their dis- 
tress came from their awareness of what they might have done had the shocks been 
real. In contrast, the distress of our guards came from their awareness that their 
"shocks" to the prisoners were all real, direct, and continual. 

An additional feature of the study that would qualify it as unethical was not 
disclosing in advance the nature of the arrests and formal booking at police head- 
quarters to the students who had been assigned to the prisoner role or to their 
parents, who were caught off guard by this unexpected Sunday intrusion into 
their lives. We were also guilty of manipulating parents into thinking the situa- 
tion of their sons was not as bad as it was by the various deceptive and control 
procedures we inaugurated on Visiting Nights. If you recall, we worried that par- 
ents would take their sons home if they fully realized the abusive nature of this 
mock prison. To forestall such action, which would have ended the study, we put 
on a "show" for them. We did so not only to keep our prison intact but also as a 
basic ingredient of our prison simulation, because such deceptions are usual in 
many systems under investigation by oversight committees. By putting out a 
good-looking red carpet, system managers counter complaints and concerns 
about the negative aspects of their situation. 

Another reason for considering the SPE as unethical is the failure to termi- 
nate the study sooner than we did. I should have called it quits after the second 
prisoner suffered a severe stress disorder on Day 3. That should have been suffi- 
cient evidence that Doug-8612 was not faking his emotional reaction and break- 
down on the previous day. We should have stopped after the next and the next and 
the next prisoners suffered extreme disorders. But we did not. It is likely, however, 
that I would have terminated the study on Sunday, at the end of a full week, as a 
"natural ending," had not Christina Maslach's intervention forced premature clo- 
sure. I might have ended it after one week because I and the small staff of Curt 
Banks and David Jaffe were exhausted from dealing with the around-the-clock lo- 
gistics and the need to contain the guards' escalating abuses. 

In retrospect, I believe that the main reason I did not end the study sooner, 
when it began to get out of hand, resulted from the conflict created in me by my 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


dual roles as principal investigator, and thus guardian of the research ethics of 
the experiment, and as prison superintendent, eager to maintain the integrity 
and stability of my prison at all costs. I would like to believe that had someone else 
been playing the superintendent's role, I would have seen the light and blown the 
whistle sooner. I now realize that there should have been someone with authority 
above mine, someone in charge of oversight of the experiment. 

However, neither the members of the Human Subjects Research Committee 
nor I imagined in advance that any such external authority was necessary in an 
experiment where college students had the freedom to stay or go anytime the 
going became rougher than they could handle. Before the experiment, it was just 
"kids going to play cops and robbers," and it was hard to imagine what could hap- 
pen within a few days. It would have been good to have had advance hindsight op- 

I am sure that had this experiment been conducted in more recent times, the 
students and their parents would have filed lawsuits against the university and 
me. But the 1970s were a less litigious time in the United States than has existed 
since then. No legal charges were ever filed, and there were only a few attacks on 
the ethics of this research by professional colleagues.' Indeed, it was I who re- 
quested a postexperiment ethics evaluation by the American Psychological Asso- 
ciation in July 1973, which determined that the existing ethical guidelines had 
been followed. 

Nevertheless, I do feel responsible for creating an institution that gave per- 
mission for such abuses to occur within the context of the "psychology of impris- 
onment." The experiment succeeded all too well in creating some of what is worst 
in real prisons, but the findings came at the expense of human suffering. I am 
sorry for that and to this day apologize for contributing to this inhumanity. 


Most research follows a utilitarian ethics model. When an ethical principle admits 
of contingent applications, its standard is relative and it is to be judged on prag- 
matic criteria weighted according to utilitarian principles. Obviously such a model 
guided this research, as it does most psychological experimentation. But what ele- 
ments are considered in the cost-gain equation? How are the loss and gain to be 
proportionately weighted? Who is to judge whether the gain offsets the loss? 
These are some of the questions that must be faced if a position of relative ethics 
is deemed to be ethical at all. 

Some solutions are resolved on the basis of conventional wisdom, meaning 
the present state of relevant knowledge, precedents in similar cases, social con- 
sensus, the values and sensitivity of the individual researcher, and the level of 
consciousness prevailing in the given society at a particular time. Research insti- 
tutions, funding agencies, and governments also establish strict guidelines for 
and restrictions on all medical and nonmedical human research. 


The Lucifer Effect 

At the core of the ethical dilemma for social scientists is: Can a given re- 
searcher create a balance between what he or she believes is necessary for the 
conduct of socially or theoretically useful research and what is thought necessary 
to the well-being and dignity of the research participants? Since researchers' self- 
serving biases may push them more nearly toward the former than the latter, ex- 
ternal reviewers, particularly grant reviewers and institutional review boards 
(IRBs), must serve as ombudspersons for the relatively powerless participants. 
However, these external reviewers must also act in the interest of "science" and 
"society" in determining whether, and to what degree, some deception, emotional 
arousal, or other aversive states can be permitted in a given experiment. They op- 
erate on the assumption that any negative impact of such procedures is transient 
and not likely to endure beyond the limits of the experiment. Let us consider next 
how those competing interests were served in the SPE. 

On the relativist side of the ethical argument, one could contend that the SPE 
was not unethical because of the following: The legal counsel of Stanford Univer- 
sity was consulted, drew up a formal "informed consent" statement, and told us of 
the work, safety, and insurance requirements we had to satisfy for them to ap- 
prove the experiment. The "informed consent" statement signed by every partici- 
pant specified that during the experiment there would be an invasion of his 
privacy; prisoners would have only a minimally adequate diet, would lose some of 
their civil rights, and would experience harassment. All were expected to com- 
plete their two-week contract to the best of their ability. The Student Health De- 
partment was alerted to our study and prior arrangements were made for any 
medical care subjects might need. Approval was officially sought and received in 
writing from the agency sponsoring the research, the Group Effectiveness Branch 
of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Stanford Psychology Department, and 
Stanford's Institutional Review Board (IRB).' 

Aside from having the subjects arrested by police, there was no deception of 
the participants. Moreover, my staff and I repeatedly reminded the guards not to 
be physically abusive to the prisoners, individually or collectively. However, we did 
not extend the mandate to restrict psychological abuse. 

Another factor that complicates assessing the ethics of this study is that our 
prison was open to inspection by outsiders, who should have protected the rights 
of the participants. Imagine you were a prisoner suffering in this setting. If you 
were a prisoner in our jail, who would you have wanted as your supporter? Who 
might have pressed the "Exit" button for you if you were unable to press it your- 
self? Would it have been the Catholic priest/prison chaplain when he saw you cry- 
ing? Not a chance. How about your mom and pop. friends, family? Wouldn't they 
intervene after they noticed that your condition was deteriorating? None ever did. 
Maybe help would have come from one of the many professional psychologists, 
graduate students, secretaries, or staff of the Psychology Department, some of 
whom watched live-action videos of parts of the study, took part in Parole Board 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


hearings, or spoke to participants during interviews or when they were in the 
storage closet during the "break-in" fiasco. No help for you from that source. 

As noted, each of these onlookers fell into playing a passive role. They all ac- 
cepted my framing of the situation, which blinded them to the real picture. They 
also intellectualized because the simulation seemed real; or because of the real- 
ism of the role-playing; or because they focused solely on the minutiae of the ex- 
perimental design. Moreover, the bystanders did not see the more severe abuses as 
they were unfolding, nor were the participants willing to disclose them fully to 
outsiders, even to close friends and families. They were driven, perhaps, by embar- 
rassment, pride, or a sense of "manliness." So many came and looked but did not 
see and just walked away. 

Finally, what we did right was to engage in extensive debriefing, not just for 
three hours following the experiment but also on several subsequent occasions 
when most of the participants returned to review the videos and see a slide show 
of the study. I maintained contact with most of the participants for several years 
after the conclusion of the experiment, sending copies of articles, my congres- 
sional testimony, news clippings, and notices of upcoming TV shows on the SPE. 
Over the years, about a half dozen of the participants have joined me in some of 
these national broadcasts. I am still in contact with a few of them more than 
three decades later. 

What was important about the extensive debriefing sessions was that they 
gave the participants a chance to openly express their strong feelings and to gain 
a new understanding of themselves and their unusual behavior in a novel, alien 
setting. Our method was a form of "process debriefing"" in which we made ex- 
plicit that some effects and beliefs that are developed in an experiment can last be- 
yond the limits of the experiment. We explained the reasons they should not in 
this special case. I emphasized that what they had done was diagnostic of the 
negative nature of the prison situation that we had created for them and was not 
diagnostic of their personalities. I reminded them that they had been carefully se- 
lected, precisely because they were normal and healthy, and that they had been 
assigned randomly to one or the other of the two roles. They did not bring any 
pathology into the place; rather, the place elicited pathology of various kinds from 
them. In addition, I informed them that their peers likewise had done almost any- 
thing that any one prisoner did that was demeaning or disordered. The same was 
true of most of the guards, who at some time were abusive of the prisoners. They 
behaved as they did in the role exactly as their shift mates had. 

I also tried to make the debriefing a lesson on "moral education" by explicitly 
discussing the moral conflicts we all faced throughout the study. A pioneering 
theorist in moral development, Larry Kohlberg. has argued that such discussions 
within the context of moral conflict are the primary, perhaps the only way to in- 
crease an individual's level of moral development." 

Recall that the data from the mood adjective checklist showed that both pris- 


The Lucifer Effect 

oners and guards had returned to a more balanced emotional state following the 
debriefing session, to reach levels comparable to their emotional conditions at the 
start of the study. The relatively short duration of the negative impact of this in- 
tense experience on the participants can be ascribed to three factors: First, these 
youngsters all had a sound psychological and personal foundation to bounce 
back to after the study ended. Second, the experience was unique to and con- 
tained in that time, setting, costumes, and script, all of which could be left behind 
as a package of their "SPE adventure" and not reactivated in the future. Third, 
our detailed debriefing took the guards and prisoners off the hook for behaving 
badly and identified the features of the situation that had influenced them. 

Positive Consequences to the Participants 

In the traditional accounts of the relative ethics of research, in order for any re- 
search to be sanctioned it is necessary for the gain to science, medicine, and/or so- 
ciety to outweigh the cost to the participants. Although such a gain-cost ratio 
seems appropriate, I now want to challenge this method of accounting. The costs 
to the participants ("subjects" in the days of the SPE) were real, immediate, and 
often tangible. In contrast, whatever gains were anticipated when the study was 
designed or approval given were merely probable and distant and perhaps might 
never be realized. Much promising research does not yield significant results and 
thus is not even published and circulated in the scientific community. Even signifi- 
cant published findings may not translate into practice, and practice may not 
prove feasible or practical when scaled up to the level of social benefits. On the 
other hand, some basic research that had no obvious application when originally 
conceived has turned out to yield important applications. For example, basic re- 
search on the conditioning of the autonomic nervous system has led directly to 
the use of biofeedback as a therapeutic aid in health care." Moreover, most re- 
searchers have shown little interest or talent in the "social engineering" applica- 
tions of their findings to personal and social problems. Taken together, these 
criticisms say that the lofty "gain" side of the research ethical equation may not 
be met either in principle or practice, while the pain part remains a net loss as well 
as a gross loss to participants and society. 

Also singularly missing from this ethical equation is concern for the net gain 
to the participants. Do they benefit in some way from having been part of a given 
research project? For instance, does their financial remuneration offset the dis- 
tress they experience from taking part in medical research assessing aspects of 
pain? Do people value the knowledge they accrue as research participants? Do 
they learn something special about themselves from the research experience? 
Adequate, detailed debriefing is essential to realize this secondary objective of 
human subjects research. (For an example of how this can be achieved in one 
of my experiments on induced psychopathology. see notes.") But such gains 
cannot be assumed or hoped for: they must be demonstrated empirically as out- 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


come measures of any study conducted with a prior sense of its "questionable 
ethics." Also absent from most considerations of research ethics is the obligation 
incumbent on researchers to engage in a special kind of social activism that 
makes their research useful to their field of knowledge and to the improvement of 
their society. 

I would like to balance the SPE's ethics slate a bit by first noting some remark- 
able profits it had to both its participants and staff. Then I will outline some of the 
social activism that I have engaged in over the past three or more decades to en- 
sure that the value of this experiment has been realized as fully as possible. 

Unexpected Personal Gains to SPE Participants and Staff 

A number of unexpectedly positive effects emerged from this study that have had 
lasting impact on some of the participants and staff. In general, most of the par- 
ticipants indicated on their final follow-up evaluations (submitted from home at 
varying times after the study) that it was a valuable personal learning experience. 
These positives help balance, to some extent, the obvious negatives of the prison 
experience, as we note that none of the participants would volunteer for a similar 
study again. Let's examine some of the positive aftershocks of the SPE, taken from 
their evaluations. 

Doug, Prisoner 8612, a ringleader of the prisoner rebellion, was the first prisoner 
to suffer an extreme emotional stress reaction. His response forced us to release 
him after only thirty-six hours. The experience was truly disturbing for him, as he 
said in an interview during the filming of our documentary, Quiet Rage: The Stan- 
ford Prison Experiment: "As an experience it was unique, I've never screamed so 
loud in my life; I've never been so upset in my life. It was an experience of being 
out of control, both of the situation and of my feelings. Maybe I've always had dif- 
ficulties with losing control. I wanted to understand myself, so I went into psy- 
chology [after the SPE]. I'll go into psychology and I'll learn what makes a person 
tick so I won't be so afraid of the unknown." 12 

In a follow-up evaluation that he completed five years after the study, Doug 
revealed that he started to simulate extreme distress in order to be released, but 
then that role got to him. "I figured the only way I could get out of the experiment 
was to play sick, first physical. Then when that didn't work I played at mental fa- 
tigue. However, the energy it took to get into that space, and the mere fact that I 
could be so upset, upset me." How upset? He reported that his girlfriend told him 
that he was so upset and nervous that he talked about the experiment constantly 
for two months afterward. 

Doug went on to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, in part to learn how to 
gain greater control over his emotions and behavior. He did his dissertation on 
shame (of the prisoner status) and guilt (of the guard status), completing his in- 
ternship at San Quentin State Prison, rather than in the usual medical/clinical 


The Lucifer Effect 

setting, and has been a forensic psychologist in the San Francisco and California 
corrections systems for more than twenty years. It was his moving testimony that 
gave us the title of our video, Quiet Rage, as he talked about the sadistic impulse in 
guards that must be guarded against because it is always there in situations of dif- 
ferential power — ready to slip out, to explode, as a kind of "quiet rage." Part of 
Doug's career has focused on helping inmates maintain a sense of dignity despite 
their surroundings, and to enable guards and prisoners to coexist more amicably. 
This is a case of the initial strongly negative effect of the SPE being transformed 
into insight that has had enduring consequences for the individual and society. 
There was much pain and much gain to the same research subject. 

Guard Hellmann, the tough "John Wayne" macho guard, has been featured in all 
of the televised portrayals of the study for his dominating role and the "creatively 
evil" tasks and games he invented for the prisoners. We met recently at a lecture I 
was giving, and he confided that, unlike Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame, 
which everyone gets once in a lifetime, the Stanford Prison Experiment has pro- 
vided him with "fifteen minutes of infamy, permanently." In response to my re- 
quest that he think about whether his participation may have had any positive 
consequences on his life, he sent me this note: 

Decades of carrying the baggage of life have softened the arrogant and in- 
sensitive teenager that I was in 1 97 1 . If someone had told me that my ac- 
tions had harmed any of the prisoners, my likely response would have 
been "they're weaklings and sissies." But the memory of how I fell so 
deeply into my role that I was blind to the suffering of others serves today 
as a cautionary tale, and I think carefully about how I treat people. In fact, 
some might find me overly sensitive for my role as a business owner, as I 
sometimes hesitate to make decisions to, for example, fire non-performing 
employees for fear that it would be a hardship to them."" 

Guard Vandy explained some of the personal insight he gained from his experience 
as the tough leader of his shift. During a follow-up evaluation a few months later, 
he told us, "My enjoyment in harassing and punishing prisoners was quite un- 
natural because I do tend to think of myself as being sympathetic to the injured, 
especially animals. I think it was an outgrowth from my total freedom to rule the 
prisoners; I began to abuse my authority. In view of this I have tried to realize 
when I am being pushy or authoritarian and then correct it. I find it much easier 
to examine it and realize just when I am behaving that way. I feel that now be- 
cause of my ability to better understand it, that I have become less demanding 
and bossy than I was before the experiment." 

Carlo Prescott, our prison consultant, was released from San Quentin State Prison 
only six months before his involvement in the SPE. He had been incarcerated in 
several California prisons as well as in a California Youth Authority facility for 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


more than seventeen years of his life. The changes in his professional status and 
the enhanced self-esteem that accompanied his teaching at Stanford with me on 
the subject of the psychology of imprisonment, and his contributions to the SPE, 
have had salutary consequences for him. He landed a good job as the radio talk- 
show host of Carlo's Corner on San Francisco's KGO station, where he provoked 
his listeners to social consciousness and offered penetrating insights into racist 
and fascist trends in the United States. He also taught other college courses, lec- 
tured in the community, did community service, gave congressional testimony 
along with me, and has been a model citizen all these years. 

Craig Haney went on to graduate from Stanford University's Law School with J. D., 
as well as a Ph.D. from our Psychology Department. He is a professor on the fac- 
ulty of the University of California. Santa Cruz, where he teaches popular courses 
in psychology and law and in the psychology of institutions. Craig has become 
one of the nation's leading consultants on prison conditions and one of only a 
handful of psychological experts working with attorneys who represent prisoner 
class action suits in the United States. He has written extensively and brilliantly 
about many different aspects of crime, punishment, execution, and correction. 
We have collaborated on a number of professional journal articles, books, and 
trade magazines." His statement of the impact that the SPE had on him clearly 
shows the worth of this experiment: 

For me. the Stanford Prison Experiment was a formative, career-altering 
experience. I had just finished my second year as a psychology graduate 
student at Stanford when Phil Zimbardo, Curtis Banks, and I began to plan 
this research. My interests in applying social psychology to questions of 
crime and punishment had just begun to crystallize, with Phil Zimbardo's 
blessing and support. . . . Not long after I finished my work on the SPE I 
began to study actual prisons and eventually focused also on the social 
histories that helped to shape the lives of the people who were confined in- 
side them. But I never lost sight of the perspective on institutions that I 
gleaned from observing and evaluating the results of 6 short days inside 
our simulated prison." 

Christina Maslach, the heroine of the SPE, is now a psychology professor at the 
University of California, Berkeley, vice provost of undergraduate education, dean 
of letters and sciences, and a Carnegie Foundation Distinguished Professor of the 
Year. Her brief but powerful experience in the SPE also had a positive impact on 
her career decisions, as she said in this retrospective account: " 

For me, the important legacy of the prison experiment is what I learned 
from my personal experience and how that helped to shape my own subse- 
quent professional contributions to psychology. What I learned about 
most directly was the psychology of dehumanization — how basically good 


The Lucifer Effect 

people can come to perceive and treat others in such bad ways; how easy 
it is for people to treat others who rely on their help or good will as less 
than human, as animals, inferior, unworthy of respect or equality. That 
experience in the SPE led me to do the pioneering research on burnout — 
the psychological hazards of emotionally demanding human service work 
that can lead initially dedicated and caring individuals to dehumanize and 
mistreat the very people they are supposed to serve. My research has tried 
to elucidate the causes and consequences of burnout in a variety of oc- 
cupational settings; it has also tried to apply these findings to practical 
solutions. I also encourage analysis and change of the situational determi- 
nants of burnout rather than focusing on individual personalities of the 
human caregivers. So my own story in the Stanford Prison Experiment is 
not simply whatever role I played in ending the study earlier than planned, 
but my role in beginning a new research program that was inspired by my 
personal experience with that unique study." 

I might add that as the flip side to the deindividuation processes that were so 
potent in the SPE, Christina has also done pioneering research on its opposite, in- 
dividuation, the ways in which people strive for uniqueness." 

Phil Zimbardo. And then there was me. (See notes for status of Curtis Banks and 
David Jaffee."') The week in the SPE changed my life in many ways, both profes- 
sionally and personally. The outcomes that can be traced to the unexpectedly 
positive consequences that this experience created forme were vast. My research 
was affected, as was my teaching and personal life, and I became a social change 
agent for improving prison conditions and highlighting other forms of institu- 
tional abuses of power. 

My research focus for the following three decades has been stimulated by a 
variety of ideas I extracted from this prison simulation. They led me to study shy- 
ness, time perspective, and madness. It also changed my approach to teaching. 
Please allow me, at this point, to amplify on these three intersecting lines of re- 
search and the changes in my teaching style that were all stimulated by the SPE. 
Following that, I will reveal in a bit more detail how the experiment also helped to 
change my personal life. 

Shyness as Self-imposed Prison 

What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer 
so inexorable as one's self? 

— Nathaniel Hawthorne 

In our basement jail, prisoners surrendered their basic freedoms in response to 
the coercive control of the guards. Yet in real life beyond the laboratory, many 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


people voluntarily give up their freedoms of speech, action, and association with- 
out external guards forcing them to do so. They have internalized the demanding 
guard as part of their self-image; the guard who limits their options for spontane- 
ity, liberty, and joy in life. Paradoxically, these same people have also internalized 
the image of the passive prisoner who reluctantly acquiesces to these self-imposed 
restrictions on all their actions. Any action that calls attention to one's person 
threatens her or him with potential humiliation, shame, and social rejection and 
thus must be avoided. In response to that inner guardian, the prisoner-self 
shrinks back from life, retreats into a shell, and chooses the safety of the silent 
prison of shyness. 

Elaborating that metaphor from the SPE led me to think about shyness as a 
social phobia that breaks the bonds of the human connection by making other 
people threatening rather than inviting. The year after our prison study ended, I 
started a major research initiative, the Stanford Shyness Project, to investigate the 
causes, correlates, and consequences of shyness in adults and adolescents. Ours 
was the first systematic study of adult shyness; once we knew enough, we went 
on to develop a program for treating shyness in a unique Shyness Clinic (1977). 
The clinic, which has been in continuous operation over all this time in the Palo 
Alto community, has been directed by Dr. Lynne Henderson and is now part of the 
Pacific Graduate School of Psychology. My primary goal in the treatment and pre- 
vention of shyness has been to develop means to help shy people liberate them- 
selves from their self-imposed, silent prisons. I have done so in part through 
writing popular books for the general public on how to deal with shyness in adults 
and children." 1 These activities are a counterpoint to the imprisonment to which 
I had subjected the participants in the SPE. 

Time Perspective Biases 

People on the outside tend to live looking toward the future. The 
future for a convict is vague and sketchy. His past is gone; people 
stop writing after a while. The present becomes magnified. 

— Ken Whalen, ex-convict and playwright 11 

In the SPE, time sense became distorted in many ways. For the prisoners, their 
sleep cycle was disrupted by forced awakening for the counts; they were always 
tired, and that exhaustion was amplified by the tedious exercises and menial work 
regimes assigned to them. Their sense of time was also affected by the absence of 
external signs of day and night and lack of clocks. (The absence of clocks is part 
of the design strategy of gambling casinos to embed gamblers in an expanded 
present by removing any references to time.) As noted in the last chapter, the pris- 
oners magnified their focus on the awful present by talking about the immediate 
situation and rarely about their past or future lives. Interestingly, after each of the 
prisoners who was released early was gone, the remaining prisoners made virtu- 


The Lucifer Effect 

ally no references to them. They were gone and forgotten, pushed out of immedi- 
ate memory focus. 

As for the staff, our time perspective also became distorted by the long shifts 
we had to endure, the short sleep episodes, and the many different logistical and 
tactical issues we had to deal with every day and night. I think that some of our 
misjudgments and indecisions can be traced in part to our distorted time sense. 
These experiences led to my need to understand how human behavior is influ- 
enced by our sense of time perspective, the way we partition the flow of our expe- 
riences into the temporal categories of past, present, and future. Using surveys, 
interviews, experiments, and cross-cultural studies, I learned many new things 
about time perspective that enabled me to develop a valid, reliable metric for as- 
sessing individual differences in time perspective." The Zimbardo Time Perspec- 
tive Inventory (ZTPI) is being used by researchers around the world to study a 
host of important phenomena, such as decision-making biases, health issues, 
stress, addiction, problem solving, environmental sustainability, and many more 
"time-tagged" phenomena. 

Most people's lives are controlled by their overuse of one time frame — past, 
present, or future — and underreliance on the other frames, which they should 
be using in a more flexible, balanced fashion depending on the demands of any 
given situation. When there is work to be done, the discipline associated with 
future orientation is needed. When we need to connect to family and friends, 
the rooted positive past should be called upon. When we want to enjoy life's 
sensual pleasures and seek new adventures, a present orientation best enables 
us to do so. Many factors contribute to biasing people toward being excessively 
present-oriented — either hedonistic or fatalistic — excessively future-oriented, or 
excessively past-oriented — in either positive or negative focus. Among those fac- 
tors are cultural influences, education, religion, social class, family modeling, and 
personal experiences. The SPE made it obvious that time perspective was not 
merely a personal trait or an outcome measure but could be altered by experi- 
ences in situations that expanded or contracted it. 

When studying institutions, it also becomes apparent that time perspective 
plays a powerful, hidden role in shaping the minds of the those who become "in- 
stitutionalized," whether in prisons, homes for the aged, or chronic care hospi- 
tals. Endless routines and undifferentiated daily activities create a seeming 
circularity of time — it just flows on, undivided into meaningful linear units but 
creeping onward as if it were an ant's journey on a Mobius strip of life. Among his 
insights into the meaning of imprisonment in Soledad Brother, George Jackson re- 
flects on time and its distortion: 

The Time slips away from me There is no rest from it even at night 

The days, even the weeks lapse one into the other, endlessly into one an- 
other. Each day that comes and goes is exactly like the one that went 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


Madness in Normal People 

Do you know what you have done? [Sherlock Holmes asked 
Sigmund Freudl You have succeeded in taking my methods — 
observation and inference — and applying them to the inside of 
a subject's head. 

— Nicholas Meyer, The Seven Percent Solution 

One of the most dramatic outcomes of the SPE was the way in which many 
healthy, normal young men began to behave pathologically in a short time. Be- 
cause our selection procedures ruled out preexistent, so-called premorbid, dis- 
positions as causal factors, I wanted to understand the processes by which 
psychopathological symptoms first develop in ordinary people. Thus, in addition 
to stimulating me to study shyness and time perspective, my experiences in the 
SPE stimulated a new line of theorizing and experimental research on how nor- 
mal people first begin to "go mad." 

Most of what is known about abnormal functioning comes from retrospective 
analyses that attempt to figure out what factors might have caused the current 
mental disturbance in a given person — much like Sherlock Holmes's strategies of 
inferential reasoning from effects back to causes. Instead, I tried to develop a 
model that focuses on the processes involved in the development of symptoms of 
mental disorders, such as phobia and paranoia. People are motivated to generate 
explanations when they perceive that some expectation about their functioning is 
violated. They try to make sense of what went wrong when they fail in academic, 
social, business, athletic, or sexual situations — depending on how important 
such a discrepancy is to their self-integrity. The rational search process for mean- 
ing is distorted by cognitive biases that focus attention on classes of explanation 
that are not appropriate in the current analysis. Thus, overusing explanations 
that focus on "people" as the causes of one's reactions may bias the search 
for meaning toward developing symptoms characteristic of paranoid thinking. 
Similarly, explanations focused on "environments" as the causes of one's reac- 
tions may bias that search toward the symptom development typical of phobic 

This new model of the cognitive and social bases of "madness" in normal, 
healthy people has been validated in our controlled laboratory experiments. We 
have found, for example, that pathological symptoms may develop in up to one 
third of normal participants in the rational process of their trying to make sense 
of unexplained sources of arousal." We also demonstrated that college students 
with normal hearing who were made to experience partial temporary deafness by 
means of hypnotic suggestion soon began to think and act in paranoid ways, be- 
lieving that others were hostile to them. Thus, undetected hearing impairment in 
the elderly may be a contributor to their development of paranoid disorders — and 


The Lucifer Effect 

thus can be prevented or treated with hearing aids rather than psychotherapy or 

Therefore, I have argued that the seeds of madness can be planted in any- 
one's backyard and will grow in response to transient psychological perturba- 
tions in the course of the lifetime of ordinary experience. Switching from a 
restrictive medical model of mental disturbances to a public health model encour- 
ages the search for situational vectors at play in individual and societal distur- 
bances rather than restricting the search to within the head of the distressed 
individual. We are in a better position to prevent, as well as to treat, madness and 
psychopathology when we bring fundamental knowledge of cognitive, social, and 
cultural processes to bear on a fuller appreciation of the mechanisms involved in 
transforming normal into dysfunctional behavior. 

Teaching by Powering Down 

My awareness of the ease with which I became a dominating power figure in the 
SPE led me to restructure my teaching methods to give students more power and 
limit the teacher's role to his command of expertise in his field rather than social 
control. I instituted "open-mike" periods at the start of class when students in 
large lectures could criticize anything about the course or make personal state- 
ments about it. This evolved into online bulletin boards in which students were 
encouraged to speak openly about positive and negative aspects of the course 
every day throughout the term. I also reduced competition for top grades among 
students by not grading on a curve and instead developing absolute standards 
that derived from each student's mastery of material criteria, taking tests with a 
learning partner, and even eliminating grading altogether in some courses." 

The SPE's Personal Impact 

The year after the end of the SPE (August 10, 1972), I married Christina Maslach 
at the Stanford Memorial Church, where we also renewed our marital vows on 
our twenty-fifth anniversary in the presence of our children. That heroine pro- 
foundly affects all that I do in the best ways imaginable. In this relationship, I was 
able to salvage one more bit of heaven from the hell of that prison experience. 

Another personal impact that this little weeklong study had on me was in be- 
coming an advocate for social change based on research-based evidence, in pro- 
moting prison reform, and in my dedicated efforts to maximize the reach of the 
SPE's significant messages. Let's review them in some detail. 

Maximizing the Gain: Spreading the Social Gospel 

While the SPE changed my life in many ways, one of the most abrupt changes oc- 
curred as the result of my invited appearance before a subcommittee of the U.S. 
House of Representatives: suddenly, I was transformed from an academic re- 
searcher to an advocate for social change. In its hearings on prison reform in 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


October 1971, the subcommittee wanted not only analysis but also recommenda- 
tions for reform. In my statement in the Congressional Record. I clearly advocated 
congressional intervention into the prison structure to bring about improve- 
ments in the condition of inmates, as well as for correctional personnel." 

My advocacy has largely taken the form of consciousness raising about the 
necessity for ending the "social experiment" of prisons because, as demonstrated 
by the high rates of recidivism, the experiment has failed. We must find the reason 
for that through more thorough systems analyses and propose alternative solu- 
tions to incarceration. We must also break down resistance to meaningful prison 
reform. My second testimony before a congressional subcommittee, which fo- 
cused on juvenile detention (September 1973), moved me further toward becom- 
ing a social advocate. I outlined nineteen separate recommendations for improved 
treatment of detained juveniles." I was pleased to learn that a new federal law 
was passed that was in part stimulated by my testimony. Senator Birch Bayh, who 
headed this investigation, helped to put into law the rule that, to prevent their 
being abused, juveniles in pretrial detention should not be housed with adults in 
federal prisons. The SPE was about abuse of juveniles in pretrial detention. (Of 
course, we confused matters by having parole hearings, which in real life would 
not occur until one had been convicted and sentenced.) 

One powerful legal impact of the SPE for me derived from my participation in 
the federal court trial of Spain et al. v. Procunier et al. ( 1 973) . The "San Quentin 
Six" prisoners had been isolated in solitary confinement for more than three years 
for their alleged involvement in the murder of guards and informer prisoners dur- 
ing the escape attempt of George Jackson on August 21, 1971. As an expert wit- 
ness, I toured the facilities of San Quentin's maximum-adjustment center and 
interviewed each of the six prisoners a number of times. My prepared statement 
and two days of trial testimony concluded with the opinion that all of these prison 
conditions of involuntary, prolonged, indefinite confinement under dehumaniz- 
ing conditions constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" and must therefore 
be changed. The court arrived at a similar conclusion. In addition, I served 
throughout the trial as a psychological consultant to the team of lawyers for the 

These and other activities that I have engaged in following the SPE were un- 
dertaken with the sense of an ethical mission. To balance the relative ethics equa- 
tion, I felt it was necessary to compensate for the pain experienced by our SPE 
participants by maximizing the gain of this research to science and society. My 
early efforts are summarized in a book chapter written in 1983, "Transforming 
Experimental Research into Advocacy for Social Change. 

The Power of Media and Visual Images 

Because the SPE was such a visual experience, we used its images to spread the 
message of situational power. First, I created a slide show of eighty images that 


The Lucifer Effect 

were synchronized to my audiotaped narration, with the help of Gregory White 
in 1 9 7 2 ; it was distributed mostly to college teachers as a lecture supplement. The 
advent of video enabled us to transfer these images and include in the presenta- 
tion both archival footage from the study along with new footage, interviews, and 
my videotaped narration. This project was developed with a team of Stanford stu- 
dents headed by Ken Musen, the director of Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experi- 
ment (1985). Recently, it was upgraded to DVD format with the assistance of Scott 
Pious in 2004 . This fifty-minute presentation ensures the best quality and world- 
wide accessibility. Its many dramatic still and action images made it possible to 
further broaden the reach of the SPE by including a segment on it in Program 19 
of the public television series that I helped to develop, Discovering Psychology, 
"The Power of the Situation." I was also able to feature images from the SPE in my 
introductory psychology textbooks, Psychology and Life and Psychology: Core Con- 
cepts. Those images have also been incorporated into my lectures on the psy- 
chology of evil before student, professional, and civic audiences. 

The first publication of the SPE was in an article in the mainstream media, 
"The Mind Is a Formidable Jailer; A Pirandellian Prison," in The New York Times 
Magazine (April 8, 1973). This presentation was designed to reach beyond the 
usual limited academic audience for such experimental research. In this publica- 
tion, the power of the story was amplified by the inclusion of many illustrative im- 
ages. A story in Life magazine (October 15,1971), entitled "I Almost Considered 
the Prisoners as Cattle," attracted further media attention. 

The visual nature of the SPE made it ripe for television and other media cov- 
erage. I mentioned earlier that it was featured only a few months after its comple- 
tion on NBC-TV's Chronolog series." The illustrated story of the SPE was also 
aired on 60 Minutes and the National GeographicTV series." 1 Most recently, it was 
featured in a well-made television program, "The Human Behavior Experi- 

Other ways in which I have actively tried to extend the impact of our study 
include the following: 

• Presenting the study to civic, judicial, military, law enforcement, and psy- 
chology groups to enlighten them and to arouse concern about prison life. 

• Organizing conferences on corrections in the U.S. military ( 1 97 2 , 1973, 
and 1974) that examined the relationship of research programs to policy 
decisions and measured their impact on military correctional systems. 
One focus was on systemic problems, such as racial discrimination and the 
frustrations of ambition that are fostered by recruiters." 

• Helping a local community test out its new jail and its newly hired staff by 
creating a mock prison in which 13 2 citizens volunteered to role-play pris- 
oners for three days: The power of role-playing we witnessed in the SPE 
was even more dramatic in this real jail setting — given that these guards 
realized that they were under public scrutiny, they behaved rather kindly. 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


A reporter noted some of the extreme reactions: "A housewife exhibited 
the symptoms of a nervous breakdown and had to be released." "A woman 
inmate took another hostage, held a knife to her throat, pierced the skin 
and refused to end the role she was supposed to be playing. Guards had to 
overpower her." "Many would later remark that within a day their minds 
grew foggy and they couldn't concentrate. They became irritated by the 
lack of privacy, especially the open toilets. Some felt abandoned and dehu- 
manized. Others said they began to withdraw or wanted to rebel. Some lost 
track of time." This demonstration alerted the staff to several technical 
and operational problems that they fixed before opening the jail for local 
felons. One of the mock prisoners was an attorney who concluded that de- 
spite the good appearance of the jail and the courteous staff, prison "really 
is a miserable place to be."" As a result of this mock prison trial, the offi- 
cials put into place remedial practices designed to counter such extreme 
reactions from future inmates. 
• Exchanging letters (all handwritten, in those precomputer days!) with 
more than two hundred prisoners, a dozen of whom became regular cor- 
respondents. Even today. I answer many e-mail queries every day from stu- 
dents, notably British high school students, for whom the SPE is required 
learning in the social and cognitive psychology portion of their A Level 
courses (see ). 

Two of the most powerful letters that were stimulated by the SPE came from 
a psychologist colleague recently and from a prisoner right after the study. I'd like 
to share them before we move on to examine further extensions of our experi- 
ment in different realms. The psychologist described the parallels between the SPE 
and the military indoctrination he had experienced: 

My interest in social psychology began when I was a cadet at the USAF 
Academy and read about (or saw the video of) the SPE study in my intro 
psych class. It spoke to what I saw going on all around me in the indoctri- 
nation of promising young minds into killing, dehumanizing, abuse ma- 
chines. Your analysis is dead on: It is not a question of getting more moral 
soldiers. Instead it is a question of recognizing how the situation of war 
(and the cultural institutions/practices of the military that we have de- 
signed to "prepare" people for that situation) creates monsters out of us 

A prisoner in an Ohio state prison described the abuses he experienced and 
the rage they instilled in him: 

I was recently released from "solitary confinement" after being held 
therein for 37 months [months!]. A silent system was imposed upon me 
and to even "whisper" to the man in the next cell resulted in being beaten 


The Lucifer Effect 

by guards, sprayed with chemical mace, black-jacked, stomped, and 
thrown into a "strip-cell" naked to sleep on a concrete floor without 
bedding, covering, wash basin, or even a toilet. The floor served as toilet 
and bed, and even there the "silent system" was enforced. To let a "moan" 
escape your lips because of the pain and discomfort resulted in another 
beating. I spent not days, but months there during my 37 months in 

I have filed every writ possible against the administrative acts of 
brutality. The State Courts have all denied the petitions. Because of my 
refusal to let the "things die down" and "forget" all that happened during 
my 37 months in solitary, I am the most hated prisoner in this Ohio Peni- 
tentiary and called a "hard-core incorrigible." 

Professor Zimbardo, maybe I am an incorrigible, but if true, it's be- 
cause I would rather die than to accept being treated as less than a human 
being. I have never complained of my prison sentence as being unjustified 
except through legal means of appeals. I have never put a knife on a 
guard's throat and demanded my release. I know that thieves must be 
punished and I don't justify stealing, even though I am a thief myself. But 
now I don't think I will be a thief when I am released. 

No, I'm not rehabilitated. It's just that I no longer think of becoming 
wealthy by stealing. I now only think of "killing." Killing those who have 
beaten me and treated me as if I were a dog. I hope and pray for the sake of 
my own soul and future life of freedom, that I am able to overcome the bit- 
terness and hatred which eats daily at my soul, but I know to overcome it 
will not be easy. 


We bring to an end our investigation into the Stanford Prison Experiment as a so- 
cial phenomenon with a brief overview of the ways in which its results have been 
replicated or reproduced and have been extended in various domains. Beyond its 
utility within social science, the SPE has migrated far out into other realms, into 
the public arena of television shows, commercial film, and even artistic produc- 
tions. Its basic findings about the ease with which good people can be transformed 
into perpetrators of evil if their institutional power is not restrained has led to 
some social and military applications designed to prevent such outcomes. 

Because it is important for us to move on to consider the full range of psycho- 
logical research that validates and broadens the conclusions of the SPE, at this 
point it is sufficient simply to outline these replications and extensions. A fuller 
presentation of this material, with detailed commentary and references, is avail- 
able at . 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


A Solid Replication in Another Culture 

A team of researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia, extended 
the SPE by having one condition similar to ours and several other experimental 
variants to explore how social organizations influence the relationship between 
prisoners and guards." Their "Standard Custodial" regime was modeled on 
medium-security prisons in Australia and was closest in its procedure to the SPE. 
The researchers' central conclusion of their rigorous experimental protocol 
notes: "Our results thus support the major conclusion of Zimbardo et al that hos- 
tile, confrontive relations in prisons result primarily from the nature of the prison 
regime, rather than the personal characteristics of inmates and officers" (p. 2 8 3). 
These results, within this research design, also help offset skepticism about the 
validity of such simulation experiments by providing baselines to assess behav- 
ioral changes from objectively defined structural characteristics of real-life 

The Mock Psychiatric Ward Experience 

For three days, twenty-nine staff members at Elgin State Hospital in Illinois were 
confined to a ward of their own, a mental ward in which they performed the role 
of "patient." Twenty-two regular staff played their usual roles while trained ob- 
servers and video cameras recorded what transpired. "It was really fantastic the 
things that happened in there," reported research director Norma Jean Orlando. 
In a short time the mock patients began acting in ways that were indistinguish- 
able from those of real patients: six tried to escape, two withdrew into themselves, 
two wept uncontrollably, one came close to having a nervous breakdown. Most 
experienced a general increase in tension, anxiety, frustration, and despair. The 
vast majority of staff-patients (more than 75 percent) reported feeling each of the 
following: "incarcerated," without an identity, as if their feelings were not impor- 
tant, as if nobody were listening to them, not being treated as a person, nobody 
caring about them, forgetting it was an experiment, and really feeling like a pa- 
tient. One staff-member-turned-patient who suffered during his weekend ordeal 
gained enough insight to declare: "I used to look at the patients as if they were a 
bunch of animals: I never knew what they were going through before."" 

The positive outcome of this study, which was conceived as a follow-up to the 
Stanford Prison Experiment, was the formation of an organization of staff mem- 
bers who worked cooperatively with current and former patients. They became 
dedicated to raising the consciousness of the hospital personnel about the way 
patients were being mistreated, as well as working at personally improving their 
own relationship to patients and of patients' relationship with staff. They came to 
realize the power of their "total situation" to transform the behavior of patients 
and staff in unwelcome ways, and then in more constructive ways. 


The Lucifer Effect 

A Seeming Replication Failure in a TV Pseudoexperiment 

An experiment was conducted for a BBC-TV show based on the SPE model. Its re- 
sults challenged those of the SPE because the guards showed little violence or cru- 
elty. Let's fast-forward to the end of the study and its remarkable conclusion: the 
prisoners dominated the guards! The guards became "increasingly paranoid, de- 
pressed and stressed and complained most of being bullied."" Repeat, not the 
prisoners but the guards were distressed by their experiences in this reality TV 
show. Several of the guards couldn't take it anymore and quit; none of the prison- 
ers did so. The prisoners soon established the upper hand, working as a team to 
undermine the guards; then everyone got together and decided to form a peaceful 
"commune" — with the help of a labor union organizer! Our Lucifer Effect website 
contains a critical analysis of this pseudoexperiment. 

The SPE as a Warning Against Abuse of Power 

Two of the unexpected uses of our research have been in women's shelters and in 
the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program. Directors 
of a number of shelters for abused women have informed me that they use our 
Quiet Rage video to illustrate the ease with which masculine power can become 
abusive and destructive. Seeing the film and discussing its implications helps 
abused women not to blame themselves for their abuse but to better understand 
the situational factors that transformed their once loving mates into such abus- 
ing criminals. The experiment has also become absorbed into some versions of 
feminist theory of gender relations based on power. 

Every branch of the military has a version of the SERE program. It was devel- 
oped after the Korean War to teach those captured by the enemy how to with- 
stand and resist extreme forms of coercive interrogation and abuse. Central to the 
training is the psychological and physical hardship trainees experience for days 
within a mock prisoner-of-war camp. This intense, grueling simulation prepares 
them to better cope with the terrors they might face if they are captured and tor- 

I have been informed by several sources in the Navy that the SPE's message of 
the ease with which command power can become excessive has been made ex- 
plicit in its training through using both our video and our website. This serves to 
warn the SERE trainer-captors against the impulse to "go over the top" in abusing 
their "captives." So one use of the SPE is to guide training in "guard" restraint in 
a setting that gives permission for guards to abuse others "for their own eventual 

On the other hand, the SERE program, as practiced by the Army at Fort 
Bragg, North Carolina, has been indicted by a number of critics as now being mis- 
used by the Pentagon. They argue that top officials have "flipped the switch" from 
focusing on ways to increase resistance by captured American soldiers to develop- 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


ing effective interrogation techniques to use against captured "enemy combat- 
ants" and other assumed enemies of America. According to several accounts, 
these techniques have migrated from the military SERE programs to Guanta- 
namo Bay Prison, known as "Gitmo." 

An American law professor, M. Gregg Bloche, and Jonathan H. Marks, a 
British barrister and bioethics fellow, have condemned the use of these interroga- 
tion procedures, which have been developed in part by behavioral scientists and 
physicians. They argue that "by bringing SERE tactics and the Guantanamo 
model onto the battlefield, the Pentagon opened a Pandora's box of potential 
abuse . . . the SERE model's embrace by the Pentagon's civilian leaders is further 
evidence that abuse tantamount to torture was national policy, not merely the 
product of rogue freelancers."" The investigative reporter Jane Mayer in a New 
Yorker essay, "The Experiment," has expressed similar concerns. 41 I will visit the 
issue of the misuse of the SPE by the Pentagon in chapter 1 5 . 

The tactics developed by SERE programs were part of the protocol for defen- 
sive training of military personnel in case of enemy capture; however, after the 
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, they were retrofit to be part of the arse- 
nal of offensive tactics to elicit information from military personnel or civilians 
considered as enemies. Their objective was to make those being interrogated feel 
vulnerable, be pliable, and become cooperative in revealing desired information. 
Their techniques were developed with the help of behavioral scientist consultants 
and refined based on trial-and-error field practice in SERE drills at Fort Bragg, 
North Carolina, and other military training installations. In general, these tactics 
minimized the use of physical torture, substituting mental, "soft torture" instead. 
Five of the main tactics in the SERE program to render detainees or others being 
interrogated as amenable to yielding information and confessions are: 

• Sexual humiliation and degradation 

• Humiliation based on religious and cultural practices 

• Sleep deprivation 

• Sensory deprivation and sensory overload 

• Physical torment to achieve the psychological advantages of fear and 
anxiety, such as "water-boarding," or hypothermia (exposure to freezing 

We see these tactics specifically proposed in memos of both Secretary Rums- 
feld for use at Guantanamo and of General Sanchez at Abu Ghraib, and put into 
operation at those prisons and elsewhere. There is also documented evidence that 
a team of interrogators and other military personnel from Guantanamo visited 
the SERE training program at Fort Bragg in August 2 2. Given the classified na- 
ture of this information, these statements are of course only reasonable infer- 
ences based on reports from various knowledgeable sources. 


The Lucifer Effect 

Is it possible that the SPE's main message of situational power was co-opted 
by the Pentagon and utilized in its torture training programs? I would not like to 
believe that; however, one recent critique makes that claim rather powerfully. 

"This appears to be the experiment that informs torture in Iraq ... A situa- 
tion is created — made worse by understaffing, danger, and no outside indepen- 
dent controls — and with a little encouragement (never specific instructions to 
torture) guards do torture. This situation and this torture are now widely recog- 
nized in U.S. prisons in Iraq The U.S. administration's advantage in the Stan- 
ford experiment 'situation' is that it provides deniability — there are no orders to 
torture, but the situation can be predicted to cause it."* 1 

The authors of this opinion go on to specify that this is more than mere specu- 
lation because the Stanford Prison Experiment is singled out in the Schlesinger 
Committee Report investigating the Abu Ghraib abuses. They argue that "[t]he 
publication of information about this experiment in an official document, linking 
it to conditions in U.S. military prisons, further reveals chain of command respon- 
sibility for policy. " The key link to the SPE in the Schlesinger Report is how it high- 
lighted the power of the pathological situation created in our experimental 

"The negative, anti-social reactions observed were not the product of an en- 
vironment created by combining a collection of deviant personalities, but rather, 
the result of an intrinsically pathological situation which could distort and 
rechannel the behavior of essentially normal individuals. The abnormality here 
resided in the psychological nature of the situation and not in those who passed 
through it."" 

Crossovers into Popular Culture 

Three examples of how our experiment has crossed the boundary from the ivory 
tower into the realms of music, theater, and art come from a rock group, a Ger- 
man movie, and the art of a Polish artist whose "art form" was exhibited at the 
2005 Venice Biennale. "Stanford Prison Experiment" (minus the "The") is the 
name of a rock band from Los Angeles whose intense music is "a fusion of punk 
and noise," according to its leader, who learned about the SPE as a student at 
UCLA. 4 ' Das Experiment is a German film based on the SPE that has been widely 
shown around the world. This attribution of Das Experiment, as inspired by the 
SPE, gives legitimacy and a real-world quality to this "fantasy," as the scriptwriter 
called it. It purposely confuses viewers about what did happen in our study with 
the liberties that were taken for the sake of sensationalism. It ends up being a vul- 
gar display of sexism and gratuitous sexuality and violence with no redeeming 

Although some viewers found the film exciting, the movie was panned in 
critical reviews, such as these by two well-known British film critics. The Ob- 
server's reviewer concluded, " 'The Experiment' is an improbable thriller of no 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


great originality that offers itself as a fable of national (possibly universal) in- 
clination toward authoritarian fascism." 4 * Harsher was the reviewer of The 
Guardian: "Any episode of Big Brother would have had more insight than this silly 
and obtuse nonsense."" An American film critic, Roger Ebert, extracted one 
valuable lesson from the movie, which applies to the SPE as well: "Perhaps uni- 
forms turn us into packs, led by the top dog. There are few strays."" 

A Polish artist, Artur Zmijewski, has made a forty-six-minute film, Repetition, 
that highlights the seven days paid volunteers spent in his mock prison. The film 
was screened every hour on the hour to large audiences in the Polish Pavilion at 
the June 200 5 Venice Biennale, the world's oldest celebration of contemporary 
art, and also shown in Warsaw and San Francisco art venues. 

According to one reviewer, this film "suggests that Zimbardo's experiment, 
which has as much intuition as strictly scientific method in its design, may have 
had the makings of a work of art. ... In the simulated prison, however, artistic 
decorum soon gets left behind. The 'game' achieves a momentum of its own, so 
completely wrapping up its players in its dynamic that it starts to touch them at 
the core. Guards get more brutal and controlling. The disobedient are put in soli- 
tary: all heads are shaved. At this point a few prisoners, rather than simply seeing 
all this as annoying play that they can bear with for as long as it takes (at $4 a 
day), see it as a genuinely evil situation and quit the 'experiment' for good." 4 ' 


Using archival footage and a forty-two-page slide show, tells 
the story of what happened during our experiment's six fateful days: it includes 
background documents, discussion questions, articles, interviews, and a wealth 
of other material for teachers, students, and anyone else interested in learning 
more about the experiment and corrections, in five languages. It was launched in 
December 1999, with the expert assistance of Scott Pious and Mike Lestik. 

If you visit and do a keyword search for "Experiment." what you 
are likely to discover is that the SPE is the top-ranked website worldwide, out of 
291 million results, as of August 2006. Similarly, an August 2006 Google key- 
word search for "Prison" places the Stanford Prison Experiment website second 
only to the Federal Bureau of Prisons of the United States, out of more than 192 
million results. 

On a typical day, www.prisonexp. org's pages are viewed more than 2 5,000 
times, more than 38 million times since the site was launched. At the height of 
news coverage on the Abu Ghraib Prison abuses in May and June 2004, Web traf- 
fic to the Stanford Prison Experiment website (and its parent site, www. social ) exceeded 25 0,000 page views per day. This level of traffic attests 
not only to public interest in psychological research but to the need many people 


The Lucifer Effect 

feel to understand the dynamics of imprisonment or, more generally, the dynam- 
ics of power and oppression. The data may also reflect the now-legendary status 
that this experiment has attained in many countries of the world. 

One vivid, very personal consequence of visiting the SPE website can be seen 
in the following letter to me from a nineteen-year-old psychology student who de- 
scribes the personal value he got from his exposure to it. It enabled him to better 
understand a terrible experience he had had during military boot camp: 

Not too far into it [watching the Stanford Prison Experiment], I was almost 
in tears. November 2001,1 joined the United States Marine Corps, pursu- 
ing a childhood dream. To make a long story short, I had become the vic- 
tim of repeated illegal physical and mental abuse. An investigation showed 
I suffered more than 40 unprovoked beatings. Eventually, as much as I 
fought it, I became suicidal, thus received a discharge from U.S.M.C. boot 
camp. I was in this base for just about 3 months. 

The point I am trying to make is that the manner in which your 
guards carried about their duties and the way that Military Drill Instruc- 
tors do is unbelievable. I was amazed at all the parallels of your guards and 
one particular D.I. that comes to mind. I was treated much the same way 
and even worse in some cases. 

One incident that stands out was an effort to break platoon solidarity. 
I was forced to sit in the middle of my squad bay [living quarters] and 
shout to the other recruits "if you guys would have moved faster, we 
wouldn't be doing this for hours" referencing every single other recruit 
holding over their heads very heavy foot lockers. The event was very simi- 
lar to the prisoners saying, "#819 was a bad prisoner." After my incident 
and after I was home safe some months later, all I could think about was 
how much I wanted to go back to show the other recruits that as much as 
the D.I.'s told the platoon that I was a bad recruit, I wasn't. [Just as our 
prisoner Stew-819 wanted to do.] Other behaviors come to mind like the 
push-ups for punishment, shaved heads, not having any identity other 
than being addressed as and referring to other people as "Recruit So-and- 
so" which replicates your study. 

The point of it all is even though your experiment was conducted 31 
yrs. ago, my reading the study has helped me gain an understanding I was 
previously unable to gain before, even after therapy and counseling. What 
you have demonstrated really gave me insight into something I've been 
dealing with for almost a year now. Although, it is certainly not an excuse 
for their behavior, I now can understand the rationale behind the D.I.'s ac- 
tions as far as being sadistic and power hungry. 

In short, Dr. Zimbardo, thank you. 

A full, graphic depiction of the making of a Marine can be found in William 

Mares, The Marine Machine." 

The SPE: Ethics and Extensions 


It is reasonable to conclude that there is something about this little experi- 
ment that has enduring value not only among social scientists but also even more 
strongly among the general public. I now believe that special something is the 
dramatic transformation of human nature, not by Dr. Jekyll's mysterious chemi- 
cals, which turned him into the evil Mr. Hyde, but rather by the power of social 
situations and the Systems that create and sustain them. My colleagues and I are 
pleased that we have been able "to give psychology a way into the public con- 
sciousness" in an informative, interesting, and entertaining way that enables all 
of us to understand something so basic and disturbing about human nature. 

Now it is time to broaden our empirical foundation beyond this one experi- 
ment as we turn in the next several chapters to review a variety of research from 
many sources that more fully informs us about how much situations can matter 
in turning good people into evildoers. 


Investigating Social Dynamics: 
Power, Conformity, and Obedience 

/ believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many 
men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, 
one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the 
local Ring and the terror of being left outside.... Of all the pas- 
sions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a 
man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. 

— C. S. Lewis, "The Inner Ring" (1944) 

Motives and needs that ordinarily serve us well can lead us astray when they are 
aroused, amplified, or manipulated by situational forces that we fail to recognize 
as potent. This is why evil is so pervasive. Its temptation is just a small turn away, 
a slight detour on the path of life, a blur in our sideview mirror, leading to disaster. 

In trying to understand the character transformations of the good young 
men in the Stanford Prison Experiment, I previously outlined a number of psy- 
chological processes that were pivotal in perverting their thoughts, feelings, per- 
ceptions, and actions. We saw how the basic need to belong, to associate with and 
be accepted by others, so central to community building and family bonding, was 
diverted in the SPE into conformity with newly emergent norms that enabled the 
guards to abuse the prisoners. 1 We saw further that the basic motive for consis- 
tency between our private attitudes and public behavior allowed for dissonant 
commitments to be resolved and rationalized in violence against one's fellows.' 

I will argue that the most dramatic instances of directed behavior change 
and "mind control" are not the consequence of exotic forms of influence, such as 
hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, or "brainwashing," but rather the systematic ma- 
nipulation of the most mundane aspects of human nature over time in confining 

It is in this sense, I believe what the English scholar C. S. Lewis proposed — 
that a powerful force in transforming human behavior, pushing people across the 
boundary between good and evil, comes from the basic desire to be "in" and not 
"out." If we think of social power as arrayed in a set of concentric circles from the 
most powerful central or inner ring moving outward to the least socially signifi- 
cant outer ring, we can appreciate his focus on the centripetal pull of that central 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


circle. Lewis's "Inner Ring" is the elusive Camelot of acceptance into some special 
group, some privileged association, that confers instant status and enhanced 
identity. Its lure for most of us is obvious — who does not want to be a member of 
the "in-group"? Who does not want to know that she or he has been tried and 
found worthy of inclusion in, of ascendance into, a new, rarifled realm of social 

Peer pressure has been identified as one social force that makes people, espe- 
cially adolescents, do strange things — anything — to be accepted. However, the 
quest for the Inner Ring is nurtured from within. There is no peer-pressure power 
without that push from self-pressure for Them to want You. It makes people will- 
ing to suffer through painful, humiliating initiation rites in fraternities, cults, so- 
cial clubs, or the military. It justifies for many suffering a lifelong existence 
climbing the corporate ladder. 

This motivational force is doubly energized by what Lewis called the "terror 
of being left outside." This fear of rejection when one wants acceptance can crip- 
ple initiative and negate personal autonomy. It can turn social animals into shy 
introverts. The imagined threat of being cast into the out-group can lead some 
people to do virtually anything to avoid their terrifying rejection. Authorities can 
command total obedience not through punishments or rewards but by means of 
the double-edged weapon: the lure of acceptance coupled with the threat of rejec- 
tion. So strong is this human motive that even strangers are empowered when 
they promise us a special place at their table of shared secrets — "just between you 
and me.'" 

A sordid example of these social dynamics came to light recently when a 
forty-year-old woman pleaded guilty to having sex with five high school boys and 
providing them and others with drugs and alcohol at weekly sex parties in her 
home for a full year. She told police that she had done it because she wanted to be 
a "cool mom." In her affidavit, this newly cool mom told investigators that she 
had never been popular with her classmates in high school, but orchestrating 
these parties enabled her to begin "feeling like one of the group.'" Sadly, she 
caught the wrong Inner Ring. 

Lewis goes on to describe the subtle process of initiation, the indoctrination 
of good people into a private Inner Ring that can have malevolent consequences, 
turning them into "scoundrels." I cite this passage at length because it is such an 
eloquent expression of how this basic human motive can be imperceptibly per- 
verted by those with the power to admit or deny access to their Inner Ring. It will 
set the stage for our excursion into the experimental laboratories and field settings 
of social scientists who have investigated such phenomena in considerable depth. 

To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will 
come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors. Obviously bad men, 
obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a 
drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between 


The Lucifer Effect 

two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently 
been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better 
still — just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, 
or naive or a prig — the hint will come. It will be the hint of something, 
which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play, 
something that the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never un- 
derstand. Something which even the outsiders in your own profession are 
apt to make a fuss about, but something, says your new friend, which 
"we" — and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure — 
something "we always do." And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, 
not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when 
the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into 
the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man's face — 
that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face — turn suddenly 
cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner 
Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be 
something a little further from the rules, and next year something further 
still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, 
and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes 
at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. 


The Stanford Prison Experiment is a facet of the broad mosaic of research that re- 
veals the power of social situations and the social construction of reality. We have 
seen how it focused on power relationships among individuals within an institu- 
tional setting. A variety of studies that preceded and followed it have illuminated 
many other aspects of human behavior that are shaped in unexpected ways by 
situational forces. 

Groups can get us to do things we ordinarily might not do on our own, but 
their influence is often indirect, simply modeling the normative behavior that the 
group wants us to imitate and practice. In contrast, authority influence is more 
often direct and without subtlety: "You do what I tell you to do." But because the 
demand is so open and bold-faced, one can decide to disobey and not follow the 
leader. To see what I mean, consider this question: To what extent would a good, 
ordinary person resist against or comply with the demand of an authority figure 
that he harm, or even kill, an innocent stranger? This provocative question was 
put to experimental test in a controversial study on blind obedience to authority. 
It is a classic experiment about which you have probably heard because of its 
"shocking" effects, but there is much more of value embedded in its procedures 
that we will extract to aid in our quest to understand why good people can be 
induced to behave badly. We will review replications and extensions of this clas- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


sic study and again ask the question posed of all such research: What is its ex- 
ternal validity, what are real-world parallels to the laboratory demonstration of 
authority power? 

Beware: Self-Serving Biases May Be at Work 

Before we get into the details of this research, I must warn you of a bias you likely 
possess that might shield you from drawing the right conclusions from all you are 
about to read. Most of us construct self-enhancing, self-serving, egocentric biases 
that make us feel special — never ordinary, and certainly "above average.'" Such 
cognitive biases serve a valuable function in boosting our self-esteem and protect- 
ing against life's hard knocks. They enable us to explain away failures, take credit 
for our successes, and disown responsibility for bad decisions, perceiving our sub- 
jective world through rainbow prisms. For example, research shows that 86 per- 
cent of Australians rate their job performance as "above average," and 90 percent 
of American business managers rate their performance as superior to that of 
their average peer. (Pity that poor average dude.) 

Yet these biases can be maladaptive as well by blinding us to our similarity to 
others and distancing us from the reality that people just like us behave badly in 
certain toxic situations. Such biases also mean that we don't take basic precau- 
tions to avoid the undesired consequences of our behavior, assuming it won't 
happen to us. So we take sexual risks, driving risks, gambling risks, health risks, 
and more. In the extreme version of these biases, most people believe that they are 
less vulnerable to these self-serving biases than other people, even after being 
taught about them." 

That means when you read about the SPE or the many studies in this next 
section, you might well conclude that you would not do what the majority has 
done, that you would, of course, be the exception to the rule. That statistically un- 
reasonable belief (since most of us share it) makes you even more vulnerable to 
situational forces precisely because you underestimate their power as you over- 
estimate yours. You are convinced that you would be the good guard, the defiant 
prisoner, the resistor, the dissident, the nonconformist, and, most of all, the Hero. 
Would that it were so, but heroes are a rare breed — some of whom we will meet in 
our final chapter. 

So I invite you to suspend that bias for now and imagine that what the major- 
ity has done in these experiments is a fair base rate for you as well. At the very least, 
please consider that you can't be certain of whether or not you could be as read- 
ily seduced into doing what the average research participant has done in these 
studies — if you were in their shoes, under the same circumstances. I ask you to 
recall what Prisoner Clay-416, the sausage resister, said in his postexperimental 
interview with his tormenter, the "John Wayne" guard. When taunted with 
"What kind of guard would you have been if you were in my place?" he replied 
modestly, "I really don't know." 


The Lucifer Effect 

It is only through recognizing that we are all subject to the same dynamic 
forces in the human condition, that humility takes precedence over unfounded 
pride, that we can begin to acknowledge our vulnerability to situational forces. In 
this vein, recall John Donne's eloquent framing of our common interrelatedness 
and interdependence: 

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one 
chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; 
and every chapter must be so translated. ... As therefore the bell that rings 
to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation 
to come: so this bell calls us all. . . . No man is an island, entire of itself .. . 
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and 
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

(Meditations 27) 

Classic Research on Conforming to Group Norms 

One of the earliest studies on conformity, in 1935, was designed by a social psy- 
chologist from Turkey, Muzafer Sherif." Sherif, a recent immigrant to the United 
States, believed that Americans in general tended to conform because their 
democracy emphasized mutually shared agreements. He devised an unusual 
means of demonstrating conformity of individuals to group standards in a novel 

Male college students were individually ushered into a totally dark room in 
which there was a stationary spot of light. Sherif knew that without any frame of 
reference, such a light appears to move about erratically, an illusion called the 
"autokinetic effect." At first, each of these subjects was asked individually to 
judge the movement of the light. Their judgments varied widely; some saw move- 
ment of a few inches, while others reported that the spot moved many feet. Each 
person soon established a range within which most of his reports would fall. Next, 
he was put into a group with several others. They gave estimates that varied 
widely, but in each group a norm "crystallized" wherein a range of judgments 
and an average-norm judgment emerged. After many trials, the other partici- 
pants left, and the individual, now alone, was asked again to make estimates of 
the movement of the light — the test of his conformity to the new norm estab- 
lished in that group. His judgments now fell in this new group-sanctioned range, 
"departing significantly from his earlier personal range." 

Sherif also used a confederate who was trained to give estimates that varied 
in their latitude from a small to a very large range. Sure enough, the naive sub- 
ject's autokinetic experience mirrored that of the judgments of this devious con- 
federate rather than sticking to his previously established personal perceptual 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


Asch's Conformity Research: Getting into Line 

Sherif's conformity effect was challenged in 1 9 5 5 by another social psychologist, 
Solomon Asch," who believed that Americans were actually more independent 
than Sherif's work had suggested. Asch believed that Americans could act au- 
tonomously, even when faced with a majority who saw the world differently from 
them. The problem with Sherif's test situation, he argued, was that it was so am- 
biguous, without any meaningful frame of reference or personal standard. When 
challenged by the alternative perception of the group, the individual had no real 
commitment to his original estimates so just went along. Real conformity re- 
quired the group to challenge the basic perception and beliefs of the individual — 
to say that X was Y, when clearly that was not true. Under those circumstances, 
Asch predicted, relatively few would conform: most would be staunchly resistant 
to this extreme group pressure that was so transparently wrong. 

What actually happened to people confronted with a social reality that con- 
flicted with their basic perceptions of the world? To find out, let me put you into 
the seat of a typical research participant. 

You are recruited for a study of visual perception that begins with judging 
the relative size of lines. You are shown cards with three lines of differing lengths 
and asked to state out loud which of the three is the same length as a comparison 
line on another card. One is shorter, one is longer, and one is exactly the same 
length as the comparison line. The task is a piece of cake for you. You make few 
mistakes, just like most others (less than 1 percent of the time). But you are not 
alone in this study; you are flanked by a bunch of peers, seven of them, and you 
are number eight. At first, your answers are like theirs — all right on. But then un- 
usual things start to happen. On some trials, each of them in turn reports seeing 
the long line as the same length as the medium line or the short line the same as 
the medium one. (Unknown to you, the other seven are members of Asch's re- 
search team who have been instructed to give incorrect answers unanimously on 
specific "critical" trials.) When it is your turn, they all look at you as you look at 
the card with the three lines. You are clearly seeing something different than they 
are, but do you say so? Do you stick to your guns and say what you know is right, 
or do you go along with what everyone else says is right? You face that same group 
pressure on twelve of the total eighteen trials where the group gives answers that 
are wrong, but they are accurate on the other six trials interspersed into the mix. 

If you are like most of the 123 actual research participants in Asch's study, 
you would yield to the group about 70 percent of the time on some of those criti- 
cal, wrong-judgment trials. Thirty percent of the original subjects conformed on 
the majority of trials, and only a quarter of them were able to maintain their in- 
dependence throughout the testing. Some reported being aware of the differences 
between what they saw and the group consensus, but they felt it was easier to go 
along with the others. For others the discrepancy created a conflict that was re- 


The Lucifer Effect 

solved by coming to believe that the group was right and their perception was 
wrong! All those who yielded underestimated how much they had conformed, re- 
calling yielding much less to the group pressure than had actually been the case. 
They remained independent — in their minds but not in their actions. 

Follow-up studies showed that, when pitted againstjust one person giving an 
incorrect judgment, a participant exhibits some uneasiness but maintains inde- 
pendence. However, with a majority of three people opposed to him, errors rose to 
32 percent. On a more optimistic note, however, Asch found one powerful way to 
promote independence. By giving the subject a partner whose views were in line 
with his, the power of the majority was greatly diminished. Peer support de- 
creased errors to one fourth of what they had been when there was no partner — 
and this resistance effect endured even after the partner left. 

One of the valuable additions to our understanding of why people conform 
comes from research that highlights two of the basic mechanisms that contribute 
to group conformity." We conform first out of informational needs: other people 
often have ideas, views, perspectives, and knowledge that helps us to better navi- 
gate our world, especially through foreign shores and new ports. The second 
mechanism involves normative needs: other people are more likely to accept us 
when we agree with them than when we disagree, so we yield to their view of the 
world, driven by a powerful need to belong, to replace differences with similarities. 

Conformity and Independence Light Up the Brain Differently 

New technology, not available in Asch's day, offers intriguing insights into the 
role of the brain in social conformity. When people conform, are they rationally 
deciding to go along with the group out of normative needs, or are they actually 
changing their perceptions and accepting the validity of the new though erro- 
neous information provided by the group? A recent study utilized advanced 
brain-scanning technology to answer this question." Researchers can now peer 
into the active brain as a person engages in various tasks by using a scanning de- 
vice that detects which specific brain regions are energized as they carry out vari- 
ous mental tasks. The process is known as functional magnetic resonance 
imaging (FMRI). Understanding what mental functions various brain regions 
control tells us what it means when they are activated by any given experimental 

Here's how the study worked. Imagine that you are one of thirty-two volun- 
teers recruited for a study of perception. You have to mentally rotate images of 
three-dimensional objects to determine if the objects are the same as or different 
from a standard object. In the waiting room, you meet four other volunteers, with 
whom you begin to bond by practicing games on laptop computers, taking photos 
of one another, and chatting. (They are really actors — "confederates," as they are 
called in psychology — who will soon be faking their answers on the test trials so 
that they are in agreement with one another but not with the correct responses 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


that you generate.) You are selected as the one to go into the scanner while the 
others outside look at the objects first as a group and then decide if they are the 
same or different. As in Asch's original experiment, the actors unanimously give 
wrong answers on some trials, correct answers on others, with occasional mixed 
group answers thrown in to make the test more believable. On each round, when 
it is your turn at bat, you are shown the answers given by the others. You have to 
decide if the objects are the same or different — as the group assessed them or as 
you saw them? 

As in Asch's experiments, you (as the typical subject) would cave in to group 
pressure, on average giving the group's wrong answers 41 percent of the time. 
When you yield to the group's erroneous judgment, your conformity would be 
seen in the brain scan as changes in selected regions of the brain's cortex dedi- 
cated to vision and spatial awareness (specifically, activity increases in the right 
intraparietal sulcus). Surprisingly, there would be no changes in areas of the fore- 
brain that deal with monitoring conflicts, planning, and other higher-order men- 
tal activities. On the other hand, if you make independent judgments that go 
against the group, your brain would light up in the areas that are associated with 
emotional salience (the right amygdala and right caudate nucleus regions). This 
means that resistance creates an emotional burden for those who maintain their 
independence — autonomy comes at a psychic cost. 

The lead author of this research, the neuroscientist Gregory Berns, con- 
cluded that "We like to think that seeing is believing, but the study's findings 
show that seeing is believing what the group tells you to believe." This means that 
other people's views, when crystallized into a group consensus, can actually af- 
fect how we perceive important aspects of the external world, thus calling into 
question the nature of truth itself. It is only by becoming aware of our vulnera- 
bility to social pressure that we can begin to build resistance to conformity when 
it is not in our best interest to yield to the mentality of the herd. 

Minority Power to Impact the Majority 

Juries can become "hung" when a dissenter gets support from at least one other 
person and together they challenge the dominant majority view. But can a small 
minority turn the majority around to create new norms using the same basic psy- 
chological principles that usually help to establish the majority view? 

A research team of French psychologists put that question to an experi- 
mental test. In a color-naming task, if two confederates among groups of six 
female students consistently called a blue light "green," almost a third of the 
naive majority subjects eventually followed their lead. However, the members of 
the majority did not give in to the consistent minority when they were gathered 
together. It was only later, when they were tested individually, that they re- 
sponded as the minority had done, shifting their judgments by moving the bound- 
ary between blue and green toward the green of the color spectrum. 1 ' 


The Lucifer Effect 

Researchers have also studied minority influence in the context of simulated 
jury deliberations, where a disagreeing minority prevents unanimous acceptance 
of the majority point of view. The minority group was never well liked, and its per- 
suasiveness, when it occurred, worked only gradually, over time. The vocal mi- 
nority was most influential when it had four qualities: it persisted in affirming a 
consistent position, appeared confident, avoided seeming rigid and dogmatic, and 
was skilled in social influence. Eventually, the power of the many may be under- 
cut by the persuasion of the dedicated few. 

How do these qualities of a dissident minority — especially its persistence — 
help to sway the majority? Majority decisions tend to be made without engaging 
the systematic thought and critical thinking skills of the individuals in the group. 
Given the force of the group's normative power to shape the opinions of the fol- 
lowers who conform without thinking things through, they are often taken at 
face value. The persistent minority forces the others to process the relevant infor- 
mation more mindfully. 14 Research shows that the decisions of a group as a whole 
are more thoughtful and creative when there is minority dissent than when it is 

If a minority can win adherents to their side even when they are wrong, 
there is hope for a minority with a valid cause. In society, the majority tends to be 
the defender of the status quo, while the force for innovation and change comes 
from the minority members or individuals either dissatisfied with the current sys- 
tem or able to visualize new and creative alternative ways of dealing with current 
problems. According to the French social theorist Serge Moscovici, " the conflict 
between the entrenched majority view and the dissident minority perspective is 
an essential precondition of innovation and revolution that can lead to positive 
social change. An individual is constantly engaged in a two-way exchange with 
society — adapting to its norms, roles, and status prescriptions but also acting 
upon society to reshape those norms. 


"I was trying to think of a way to make Asch's conformity experiment more hu- 
manly significant. I was dissatisfied that the test of conformity was judgments 
about lines. I wondered whether groups could pressure a person into performing 
an act whose human import was more readily apparent; perhaps behaving 
aggressively toward another person, say by administering increasingly severe 
shocks to him. But to study the group effect. . . you'd have to know how the sub- 
ject performed without any group pressure. At that instant, my thought shifted, 
zeroing in on this experimental control. Just how far would a person go under the 
experimenter's orders?" 

These musings, from a former teaching and research assistant of Solomon 
Asch, started a remarkable series of studies by a social psychologist, Stanley Mil- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


gram, that have come to be known as investigations of "blind obedience to 
authority." His interest in the problem of obedience to authority came from deep 
personal concerns about how readily the Nazis had obediently killed Jews during 
the Holocaust. 

"[My] laboratory paradigm . . . gave scientific expression to a more general 
concern about authority, a concern forced upon members of my generation, in 
particular upon Jews such as myself, by the atrocities of World War II. . . . The im- 
pact of the Holocaust on my own psyche energized my interest in obedience and 
shaped the particular form in which it was examined."" 

I would like to re-create for you the situation faced by a typical volunteer in 
this research project, then go on to summarize the results, outline ten important 
lessons to be drawn from this research that can be generalized to other situations 
of behavioral transformations in everyday life, and then review extensions of this 
paradigm by providing a number of real-world parallels. (See the Notes for a de- 
scription of my personal relationship with Stanley Milgram.") 

Milgram's Obedience Paradigm 

Imagine that you see the following advertisement in the Sunday newspaper and 
decide to apply. The original study involved only men, but women were used in a 
later study, so I invite all readers to participate in this imagined scenario. 

Public Announcement 


Persons Needed for a Study of Memory 

•We will pay five hundred New Haven men to help US complete a scientific 
study of memory and learning. The study is being done at Yale University. 

•Each person who participates will be paid $4.00 (plus 50c carfare) for 
approximately 1 hour's time. We need you for only one hour: there are no 
further obligations. You may choose the time you would lite to come (evenings, 
weekdays, or weekends). 

•No special training, education, or experience is needed. We want: 
Factory workers Businessmen Construction workers 

City employees Clerks Salespeople 

Laborers Professional people White-collar workers 

Barbers Telephone workers Others 

All persons must be between the ages of 20 and 50. High school and college 
students cannot be used. 

•If you meet these qualifications, fill out the coupon below and mail it 
now to Professor Stanley Milgram, Department of Psychology, Yale University, 
New Haven. You will be notified later of the specific time and place of the 
study. We reserve the right to decline any application. 

•You will be paid $4.00 (plus 50c carfare) as soon as you arrive at the 


YALE UNIVERSITY, NEW HAVEN, CONN. I want to take part in 
this study of memory and learning. I am between the ages of 20 and 
50. I will be paid S4.00 (plus 50c carfare) if I participate. 


The Lucifer Effect 

A researcher whose serious demeanor and gray laboratory coat convey 
scientific importance greets you and another applicant at your arrival at a Yale 
University laboratory in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. You are here to help scientific 
psychology find ways to improve people's learning and memory through the use 
of punishment. He tells you why this new research may have important prac- 
tical consequences. The task is straightforward: one of you will be the "teacher" 
who gives the "learner" a set of word pairings to memorize. During the test, 
the teacher gives each key word, and the learner must respond with the 
correct association. When right, the teacher gives a verbal reward, such as 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


"Good" or "That's right." When wrong, the teacher is to press a lever on an 
impressive-looking shock apparatus that delivers an immediate shock to punish 
the error. 

The shock generator has thirty switches, starting from a low level of 15 volts 
and increasing by 15 volts at each higher level. The experimenter tells you that 
every time the learner makes a mistake, you have to press the next higher voltage 
switch. The control panel indicates both the voltage level of each of the switches 
and a corresponding description of the level. The tenth level (15 volts) is "Strong 
Shock"; the 13th level (195 volts) is "Very Strong Shock"; the 17th level (255 
volts) is "Intense Shock" ; the 21st level (315 volts) is "Extremely Intense Shock" ; 
the 25th level (375 volts) is "Danger, Severe Shock"; and at the 29th and 30th 
levels (435 and 45 volts) the control panel is simply marked with an ominous 
XXX (the pornography of ultimate pain and power). 

You and another volunteer draw straws to see who will play each role; you 
are to be the teacher, and the other volunteer will be the learner. (The drawing is 
rigged, and the other volunteer is a confederate of the experimenter who always 
plays the learner.) He is a mild-mannered, middle-aged man whom you help es- 
cort to the next chamber. "Okay, now we are going to set up the learner so he can 
get some punishment," the researcher tells you both. The learner's arms are 


The Lucifer Effect 

strapped down and an electrode is attached to his right wrist. The shock genera- 
tor in the next room will deliver the shocks to the learner — if and when he makes 
any errors. The two of you communicate over the intercom, with the experi- 
menter standing next to you. You get a sample shock of 45 volts, the third level, a 
slight tingly pain, so you now have a sense of what the shock levels mean. The ex- 
perimenter then signals the start of your trial of the "memory improvement" 

Initially, your pupil does well, but soon he begins making errors, and you 
start pressing the shock switches. He complains that the shocks are starting to 
hurt. You look at the experimenter, who nods to continue. As the shock levels in- 
crease in intensity, so do the learner's screams, saying he does not think he wants 
to continue. You hesitate and question whether you should go on, but the experi- 
menter insists that you have no choice but to do so. 

Now the learner begins complaining about his heart condition and you 
dissent, but the experimenter still insists that you continue. Errors galore; 
you plead with your pupil to concentrate to get the right associations, you 
don't want to hurt him with these very-high-level, intense shocks. But your 
concerns and motivational messages are to no avail. He gets the answers wrong 
again and again. As the shocks intensify, he shouts out, "I can't stand the pain, 
let me out of here!" Then he says to the experimenter, "You have no right to 
keep me here! Let me out!" Another level up, he screams, "I absolutely refuse 
to answer any more! Get me out of here! You can't hold me here! My heart's 
bothering me!" 

Obviously you want nothing more to do with this experiment. You tell the ex- 
perimenter that you refuse to continue. You are not the kind of person who harms 
other people in this way. You want out. But the experimenter continues to insist 
that you go on. He reminds you of the contract, of your agreement to participate 
fully. Moreover, he claims responsibility for the consequences of your shocking 
actions. After you press the 300-volt switch, you read the next keyword, but the 
learner doesn't answer. "He's not responding," you tell the experimenter. You 
want him to go into the other room and check on the learner to see if he is all 
right. The experimenter is impassive; he is not going to check on the learner. In- 
stead he tells you, "If the learner doesn't answer in a reasonable time, about five 
seconds, consider it wrong," since errors of omission must be punished in the 
same way as errors of commission — that is a rule. 

As you continue up to even more dangerous shock levels, there is no sound 
coming from your pupil's shock chamber. He may be unconscious or worse! You 
are really distressed and want to quit, but nothing you say works to get your exit 
from this unexpectedly distressing situation. You are told to follow the rules and 
keep posing the test items and shocking the errors. 

Now try to imagine fully what your participation as the teacher would be. I 
am sure you are saying, "No way would I ever go all the way!" Obviously, you 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


would have dissented, then disobeyed and just walked out. You would never sell 
out your morality for four bucks! But had you actually gone all the way to the last 
of the thirtieth shock levels, the experimenter would have insisted that you repeat 
that XXX switch two more times, for good measure! Now, that is really rubbing it 
in your face. Forget it, no sir, no way; you are out of there, right? So how far up the 
scale do you predict that you would you go before exiting? How far would the av- 
erage person from this small city go in this situation? 

The Outcome Predicted by Expert Judges 

Milgram described his experiment to a group of forty psychiatrists and then asked 
them to estimate the percentage of American citizens who would go to each of 
the thirty levels in the experiment. On average, they predicted that less than 1 per- 
cent would go all the way to the end, that only sadists would engage in such sadis- 
tic behavior, and that most people would drop out at the tenth level of 1 50 volts. 
They could not have been more wrong! These experts on human behavior were 
totally wrong because, first, they ignored the situational determinants of behav- 
ior in the procedural description of the experiment. Second, their training in tra- 
ditional psychiatry led them to rely too heavily on the dispositional perspective to 
understand unusual behavior and to disregard situational factors. They were 
guilty of making the fundamental attribution error (FAE)! 

The Shocking Truth 

In fact, in Milgram's experiment, two of every three (65 percent) of the volun- 
teers went all the way up the maximum shock level of 45 volts. The vast ma- 
jority of people, the "teachers," shocked their "learner-victim" over and over 
again despite his increasingly desperate pleas to stop. 

And now I invite you to venture another guess: What was the dropout rate 
after the shock level reached 3 3 volts — with only silence coming from the shock 
chamber, where the learner could reasonably be presumed to be unconscious? 
Who would go on at that point? Wouldn't every sensible person quit, drop out, 
refuse the experimenter's demands to go on shocking him? 

Here is what one "teacher" reported about his reaction: "I didn't know what 
the hell was going on. I think, you know, maybe I'm killing this guy. I told the ex- 
perimenter that I was not taking responsibility for going further. That's it." But 
when the experimenter reassured him that he would take the responsibility, the 
worried teacher obeyed and continued to the very end." 

And almost everyone who got that far did the same as this man. How is that 
possible? If they got that far, why did they continue on to the bitter end? One 
reason for this startling level of obedience may be related to the teacher's not 
knowing how to exit from the situation, rather than just blind obedience. Most 
participants dissented from time to time, saying they did not want to go on, but 
the experimenter did not let them out, continually coming up with reasons why 


The Lucifer Effect 

they had to stay and prodding them to continue testing their suffering learner. 
Usually protests work and you can get out of unpleasant situations, but nothing 
you say affects this impervious experimenter, who insists that you must stay and 
continue to shock errors. You look at the shock panel and realize that the easiest 
exit lies at the end of the last shock lever. A few more lever presses is the fast way 
out, with no hassles from the experimenter and no further moans from the now- 
silent learner. Voila! 4 5 volts is the easy way out — achieving your freedom with- 
out directly confronting the authority figure or having to reconcile the suffering 
you have already caused with this additional pain to the victim. It is a simple mat- 
ter of up and then out. 

Variations on an Obedience Theme 

Over the course of a year, Milgram carried out nineteen different experiments, 
each one a different variation of the basic paradigm of: experimenter/teacher/ 
learner/memory testing/errors shocked. In each of these studies he varied one 
social psychological variable and observed its impact on the extent of obedience 
to the unjust authority's pressure to continue to shock the "learner-victim." In 
one study, he added women: in others he varied the physical proximity or remote- 
ness of either the experimenter-teacher link or the teacher-learner link; had peers 
rebel or obey before the teacher had the chance to begin; and more. 

In one set of experiments, Milgram wanted to show that his results were 
not due to the authority power of Yale University — which is what New Haven 
is all about. So he transplanted his laboratory to a run-down office building in 
downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut, and repeated the experiment as a project, 
ostensibly of a private research firm with no apparent connection to Yale. It 
made no difference; the participants fell under the same spell of this situational 

The data clearly revealed the extreme pliability of human nature: almost 
everyone could be totally obedient or almost everyone could resist authority pres- 
sures. It all depended on the situational variables they experienced. Milgram was 
able to demonstrate that compliance rates could soar to over 90 percent of people 
continuing the 450-volt maximum or be reduced to less than 10 percent — by in- 
troducing just one crucial variable into the compliance recipe. 

Want maximum obedience? Make the subject a member of a "teaching 
team," in which the job of pulling the shock lever to punish the victim is given to 
another person (a confederate), while the subject assists with other parts of the 
procedure. Want people to resist authority pressures? Provide social models of 
peers who rebelled. Participants also refused to deliver the shocks if the learner 
said he wanted to be shocked; that's masochistic, and they are not sadists. They 
were also reluctant to give high levels of shock when the experimenter filled in as 
the learner. They were more likely to shock when the learner was remote than in 
proximity. In each of the other variations on this diverse range of ordinary Ameri- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


can citizens, of widely varying ages and occupations and of both genders, it was 
possible to elicit low, medium, or high levels of compliant obedience with a flick of 
the situational switch — as if one were simply turning a "human nature dial" 
within their psyches. This large sample of a thousand ordinary citizens from such 
varied backgrounds makes the results of the Milgram obedience studies among 
the most generalizable in all the social sciences. 

When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you 
will find far more hideous crimes have been committed in the 
name of obedience than have been committed in the name of 

— C. P. Snow, "Either-Or" (1961) 

Ten Lessons from the Milgram Studies: Creating Evil Traps for Good People 

Let's outline some of the procedures in this research paradigm that seduced many 
ordinary citizens to engage in this apparently harmful behavior. In doing so, I 
want to draw parallels to compliance strategies used by "influence professionals" 
in real-world settings, such as salespeople, cult and military recruiters, media ad- 
vertisers, and others." There are ten methods we can extract from Milgram's 
paradigm for this purpose: 

1. Prearranging some form of contractual obligation, verbal or written, to 
control the individual's behavior in pseudolegal fashion. (In Milgram's ex- 
periment, this was done by publicly agreeing to accept the tasks and the 

2. Giving participants meaningful roles to play ("teacher," "learner") that 
carry with them previously learned positive values and automatically ac- 
tivate response scripts. 

3. Presenting basic rules to be followed that seem to make sense before their 
actual use but can then be used arbitrarily and impersonally to justify 
mindless compliance. Also, systems control people by making their rules 
vague and changing them as necessary but insisting that "rules are rules" 
and thus must be followed (as the researcher in the lab coat did in Mil- 
gram's experiment or the SPE guards did to force prisoner Clay-416 to eat 
the sausages). 

4. Altering the semantics of the act, the actor, and the action (from "hurting 
victims" to "helping the experimenter," punishing the former for the lofty 
goal of scientific discovery) — replacing unpleasant reality with desirable 
rhetoric, gilding the frame so that the real picture is disguised. (We can see 
the same semantic framing at work in advertising, where, for example, 
bad-tasting mouthwash is framed as good for you because it kills germs 
and tastes like medicine is expected to taste.) 

274 The Lucifer Effect 

5. Creating opportunities for the diffusion of responsibility or abdication of 
responsibility for negative outcomes; others will be responsible, or the 
actor won't be held liable. (In Milgram's experiment, the authority figure 
said, when questioned by any "teacher," that he would take responsibility 
for anything that happened to the "learner.") 

6. Starting the path toward the ultimate evil act with a small, seemingly in- 
significant first step, the easy "foot in the door" that swings open subse- 
quent greater compliance pressures, and leads down a slippery slope. 21 
(In the obedience study, the initial shock was only a mild 15 volts.) This is 
also the operative principle in turning good kids into drug addicts, with 
that first little hit or sniff. 

7. Having successively increasing steps on the pathway that are gradual, so 
that they are hardly noticeably different from one's most recent prior ac- 
tion. "Just a little bit more." (By increasing each level of aggression in 
gradual steps of only 15-volt increments, over the thirty switches, no new 
level of harm seemed like a noticeable difference from the prior level to 
Milgram's participants.) 

8. Gradually changing the nature of the authority figure (the researcher, in 
Milgram's study) from initially "just" and reasonable to "unjust" and de- 
manding, even irrational. This tactic elicits initial compliance and later 
confusion, since we expect consistency from authorities and friends. Not 
acknowledging that this transformation has occurred leads to mindless 
obedience (and it is part of many "date rape" scenarios and a reason why 
abused women stay with their abusing spouses). 

9. Making the "exit costs" high and making the process of exiting difficult by 
allowing verbal dissent (which makes people feel better about themselves) 
while insisting on behavioral compliance. 

10. Offering an ideology, or a big lie, to justify the use of any means to achieve 
the seemingly desirable, essential goal. (In Milgram's research this came 
in the form of providing an acceptable justification, or rationale, for en- 
gaging in the undesirable action, such as that science wants to help peo- 
ple improve their memory by judicious use of reward and punishment.) In 
social psychology experiments, this tactic is known as the "cover story" 
because it is a cover-up for the procedures that follow, which might be 
challenged because they do not make sense on their own. The real-world 
equivalent is known as an "ideology." Most nations rely on an ideology, 
typically, "threats to national security," before going to war or to suppress 
dissident political opposition. When citizens fear that their national secu- 
rity is being threatened, they become willing to surrender their basic free- 
doms to a government that offers them that exchange. Erich Fromm's 
classic analysis in Escape from Freedom made us aware of this trade-off, 
which Hitler and other dictators have long used to gain and maintain 
power: namely, the claim that they will be able to provide security in 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


exchange for citizens giving up their freedoms, which will give them the 
ability to control things better." 

Such procedures are utilized in varied influence situations where those in 
authority want others to do their bidding but know that few would engage in the 
"end game" without first being properly prepared psychologically to do the "un- 
thinkable." In the future, when you are in a compromising position where your 
compliance is at stake, thinking back to these stepping-stones to mindless obedi- 
ence may enable you to step back and not go all the way down the path — their 
path. A good way to avoid crimes of obedience is to assert one's personal authority 
and always take full responsibility for one's actions." 

Replications and Extensions of the Milgram Obedience Model 

Because of its structural design and its detailed protocol, the basic Milgram obe- 
dience experiment encouraged replication by independent investigators in many 
countries. A recent comparative analysis was made of the rates of obedience in 
eight studies conducted in the United States and nine replications in European, 
African, and Asian countries. There were comparably high levels of compliance 
by research volunteers in these different studies and nations. The majority obedi- 
ence effect of a mean 61 percent found in the U.S. replications was matched by 
the 66 percent obedience rate found across all the other national samples. The 
range of obedience went from a low of 31 percent to a high of 91 percent in the 
U.S. studies, and from a low of 28 percent (Australia) to a high of 88 percent 
(South Africa) in the cross-national replications. There was also stability of obedi- 
ence over decades of time as well as over place. There was no association between 
when a study was done (between 1963 and 1 985 ) and degree of obedience." 

Obedience to a Powerful Legitimate Authority 

In the original obedience studies, the subjects conferred authority status on the 
person conducting the experiment because he was in an institutional setting and 
was dressed and acted like a serious scientist, even though he was only a high 
school biology teacher paid to play that role. His power came from being perceived 
as a representative of an authority system. (In Milgram's Bridgeport replication 
described earlier, the absence of the prestigious institutional setting of Yale re- 
duced the obedience rate to 47.5 percent compared to 65 percent at Yale, al- 
though this drop was not a statistically significant one.) Several later studies 
showed how powerful the obedience effect can be when legitimate authorities ex- 
ercise their power within their power domains. 

When a college professor was the authority figure telling college student vol- 
unteers that their task was to train a puppy by conditioning its behavior using 
electric shocks, he elicited 75 percent obedience from them. In this experiment, 
both the "experimenter-teacher" and the "learner" were "authentic." That is, col- 
lege students acted as the teacher, attempting to condition a cuddly little puppy, 


The Lucifer Effect 

the learner, in an electrified apparatus. The puppy was supposed to learn a task, 
and shocks were given when it failed to respond correctly in a given time inter- 
val. As in Milgram's experiments, they had to deliver a series of thirty graded 
shocks, up to 4 5 volts in the training process. Each of the thirteen male and thir- 
teen female subjects individually saw and heard the puppy squealing and jump- 
ing around the electrified grid as they pressed lever after lever. There was no doubt 
that they were hurting the puppy with each shock they administered. (Although 
the shock intensities were much lower than indicated by the voltage labels ap- 
pearing on the shock box, they were still powerful enough to evoke clearly dis- 
tressed reactions from the puppy with each successive press of the shock 

As you might imagine, the students were clearly upset during the experi- 
ment. Some of the females cried, and the male students also expressed a lot of dis- 
tress. Did they refuse to continue once they could see the suffering they were 
causing right before their eyes? For all too many, their personal distress did not 
lead to behavioral disobedience. About half of the males (54 percent) went all the 
way to 45 volts. The big surprise came from the women's high level of obedi- 
ence. Despite their dissent and weeping, 100 percent of the female college stu- 
dents obeyed to the full extent possible in shocking the puppy as it tried to solve an 
insoluble task! A similar result was found in an unpublished study with adoles- 
cent high school girls. (The typical finding with human "victims," including Mil- 
gram's own findings, is that there are no male-female gender differences in 

Some critics of the obedience experiments tried to invalidate Milgram's find- 
ings by arguing that subjects quickly discover that the shocks are fake, and that is 
why they continue to give them to the very end."* This study, conducted back 
in 1972 (by psychologists Charles Sheridan and Richard King), removes any 
doubt that Milgram's high obedience rates could have resulted from subjects' dis- 
belief that they were actually hurting the learner-victim. Sheridan and King 
showed that there was an obvious visual connection between a subject's obedi- 
ence reactions and a puppy's pain. Of further interest is the finding that half of 
the males who disobeyed lied to their teacher in reporting that the puppy had 
learned the insoluble task, a deceptive form of disobedience. When students in a 
comparable college class were asked to predict how far an average woman would 
go on this task, they estimated percent — a far cry from 100 percent. (However, 
this faulty low estimate is reminiscent of the 1 percent figure given by the psychia- 
trists who assessed the Milgram paradigm.) Again this underscores one of my 
central arguments, that it is difficult for people to appreciate fully the power of 
situational forces acting on individual behavior when they are viewed outside the 
behavioral context. 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


Physicians' Power over Nurses to Mistreat Patients 

If the relationship between teachers and students is one of power-based authority, 
how much more so is that between physicians and nurses? How difficult is it, 
then, for a nurse to disobey an order from the powerful authority of the doctor — 
when she knows it is wrong? To find out, a team of doctors and nurses tested obe- 
dience in their authority system by determining whether nurses would follow or 
disobey an illegitimate request by an unknown physician in a real hospital set- 

Each of twenty-two nurses individually received a call from a staff doctor 
whom she had never met. He told her to administer a medication to a patient im- 
mediately, so that it would take effect by the time he arrived at the hospital. He 
would sign the drug order then. He ordered her to give his patient 20 milligrams 
of the drug "Astrogen." The label on the container of Astrogen indicated that 
5 milliliters was usual and warned that 10 milliliters was the maximum dose. His 
order doubled that high dose. 

The conflict created in the minds of each of these caregivers was whether to 
follow this order from an unfamiliar phone caller to administer an excessive dose 
of medicine or follow standard medical practice, which rejects such unauthorized 
orders. When this dilemma was presented as a hypothetical scenario to a dozen 
nurses in that hospital, ten said they would refuse to obey. However, when other 
nurses were put on the hot seat where they were faced with the physician's immi- 
nent arrival (and possible anger at being disobeyed), the nurses almost unani- 
mously caved in and complied. All but one of twenty-two nurses put to the real 
test started to pour the medication (actually a placebo) to administer to the 
patient — before the researcher stopped them from doing so. That solitary disobe- 
dient nurse should have been given a raise and a hero's medal. 

This dramatic effect is far from isolated. Equally high levels of blind obedience 
to doctors' almighty authority showed up in a recent survey of a large sample of 
registered nurses. Nearly half (46 percent) of the nurses reported that they could 
recall a time when they had in fact "carried out a physician's order that you felt 
could have had harmful consequences to the patient." These compliant nurses at- 
tributed less responsibility to themselves than they did to the physician when they 
followed an inappropriate command. In addition, they indicated that the primary 
basis of social power of physicians is their "legitimate power," the right to provide 
overall care to the patient." They were just following what they construed as le- 
gitimate orders — but then the patient died. Thousands of hospitalized patients die 
needlessly each year due to a variety of staff mistakes, some of which, I assume, 
include such unquestioning obedience of nurses and tech aides to physicians' 
wrong orders. 


The Lucifer Effect 

Deadly Obedience to Authority 

This potential for authority figures to exercise power over subordinates can have 
disastrous consequences in many domains of life. One such example is found in 
the dynamics of obedience in commercial airline cockpits, which have been 
shown to lead to many airline accidents. In a typical commercial airline cockpit, 
the captain is the central authority over a first officer and sometimes a flight engi- 
neer, and the might of that authority is enforced by organizational norms, the 
military background of most pilots, and flight rules that make the pilot directly re- 
sponsible for operating the aircraft. Such authority can lead to flight errors when 
the crew feels forced to accept the "authority's definition of the situation," even 
when the authority is wrong. 

An investigation of thirty-seven serious plane accidents where there were 
sufficient data from voice recorders revealed that in 81 percent of these cases, the 
first officer did not properly monitor or challenge the captain when he had made 
errors. Using a larger sample of seventy-five plane accidents as the context for 
evaluating destructive obedience, the author of this study concludes, "If we as- 
sume that both monitoring and challenging errors are due to excessive obedi- 
ence, we may conclude that excessive obedience may cause as many as 2 5% of all 
airplane accidents."" 

Administrative Obedience to Authority 

In modern society people in positions of authority rarely punish others with physi- 
cal violence as in the Milgram paradigm. What is more typical is, mediated vio- 
lence, where authorities pass along orders to underlings who carry them out or 
the violence involves verbal abuse that undercuts the self-esteem and dignity of 
the powerless. Authorities often take actions that are punitive and whose conse- 
quences are not directly observable. For example, giving hostile feedback to some- 
one that knowingly will disrupt their performance and adversely affect their 
chances of getting a job qualifies as a form of such socially mediated violence. 

A team of Dutch researchers assessed the extension of authority-based obe- 
dience to such a situation in a series of ingenious experiments involving twenty- 
five separate studies of nearly 5 00 participants from 1982 to 1985 at Utrecht 
University in the Netherlands.' 1 In their "administrative obedience paradigm" 
the experimenter told the research participant, acting as administrator, to make a 
series of fifteen "stress remarks" to a job applicant (a trained accomplice) in the 
next room. Specifically, the subjects were instructed to administer a job selection 
test to the applicant — if he passed the test, he would get the job; if he failed, he 
would remain unemployed. 

They were also instructed to disturb and stress the applicant while giving 
him the test. These fifteen graded remarks were critical of his test performance 
and also denigrated his personality, such as "That was really stupid of you." As 
the participant-administrators delivered these ever-more-hostile remarks, they 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


"placed the applicant under such intense psychological strain that he did not per- 
form satisfactorily and consequently failed to get the job." In addition, they were 
told by the researchers to continue despite any protests from the applicant. Any 
dissent by the participant-administrators was countered with up to four prods by 
the experimenter to continue the hostile remarks before they were finally permit- 
ted to stop if they were adamant. Finally, and most significantly, the subjects were 
informed that the ability to work under stress was not an essential job require- 
ment, but the procedure had to be followed because it assisted the experimenter's 
research project, which was studying how stress affects test performance. Caus- 
ing distress and hurting another person's job chances had no further use than the 
researcher's collection of some data. In the control condition, subjects could stop 
making the stress remarks at any point they chose. 

When asked to predict whether they would make all the stress remarks under 
these circumstances, more than 90 percent of a separate set of comparable Dutch 
respondents said they would not comply. Again, the "outsider's view" was way off 
base: fully 91 percent of the subjects obeyed the authoritative experiment to the 
very end of the line. This same degree of extreme obedience held up even when 
personnel officers were used as the subjects despite their professional code of 
ethics for dealing with clients. Similarly high obedience was found when subjects 
were sent advance information several weeks before their appearance at the labo- 
ratory so that they had time to reflect on the nature of their potentially hostile 

How might we generate disobedience in this setting? You can choose among 
several options: Have several peers rebel before the subject's turn, as in Milgram's 
study. Or notify the subject of his or her legal liability if the applicant-victim were 
harmed and sued the university. Or eliminate the authority pressure to go all the 
way, as in the control condition of this research — where no one fully obeyed. 

Sexual Obedience to Authority: The Strip-Search Scam 

"Strip-search scams" have been perpetrated in a number of fast-food restaurant 
chains throughout the United States. This phenomenon demonstrates the perva- 
siveness of obedience to an anonymous but seemingly important authority. The 
modus operandi is for an assistant store manager to be called to the phone by a 
male caller who identifies himself as a police officer named, say, "Scott. " He needs 
their urgent help with a case of employee theft at that restaurant. He insists on 
being called "Sir" in their conversation. Earlier he has gotten relevant inside infor- 
mation about store procedures and local details. He also knows how to solicit the 
information he wants through skillfully guided questions, as stage magicians and 
"mind readers" do. He is a good con man. 

Ultimately Officer "Scott" solicits from the assistant manager the name of the 
attractive young new employee who, he says, has been stealing from the shop and 
is believed to have contraband on her now. He wants her to be isolated in the rear 
room and held until he or his men can pick her up. The employee is detained there 


The Lucifer Effect 

and is given the option by the "Sir, Officer," who talks to her on the phone, of 
either being strip-searched then and there by a fellow employee or brought down 
to headquarters to be strip-searched there by the police. Invariably, she elects to be 
searched now since she knows she is innocent and has nothing to hide. The caller 
then instructs the assistant manager to strip search her; her anus and vagina are 
searched for stolen money or drugs. All the while the caller insists on being told in 
graphic detail what is happening, and all the while the_video surveillance cam- 
eras are recording these remarkable events as they unfold. But this is only the be- 
ginning of a nightmare for the innocent young employee and a sexual and power 
turn-on for the caller-voyeur. 

In a case in which I was an expert witness, this basic scenario then included 
having the frightened eighteen-year-old high school senior engage in a series of 
increasingly embarrassing and sexually degrading activities. The naked woman is 
told to jump up and down and to dance around. The assistant manager is told by 
the caller to get some older male employee to help confine the victim so she can go 
back to her duties in the restaurant. The scene degenerates into the caller insist- 
ing that the woman masturbate herself and have oral sex with the older male, 
who is supposedly containing her in the back room while the police are slowly 
wending their way to the restaurant. These sexual activities continue for several 
hours while they wait for the police to arrive, which of course never happens. 

This bizarre authority influence in absentia seduces many people in that 
situation to violate store policy, and presumably their own ethical and moral prin- 
ciples, to sexually molest and humiliate an honest, churchgoing young employee. 
In the end. the store personnel are fired, some are charged with crimes, the store 
is sued, the victims are seriously distressed, and the perpetrator in this and similar 
hoaxes — a former corrections officer — is finally caught and convicted. 

One reasonable reaction to learning about this hoax is to focus on the dispo- 
sitions of the victim and her assailants, as naive, ignorant, gullible, weird indi- 
viduals. However, when we learn that this scam has been carried out successfully 
in sixty-eight similar fast-food settings in thirty-two different states, in a half- 
dozen different restaurant chains, and with assistant managers of many restau- 
rants around the country being conned, with both male and female victims, our 
analysis must shift away from simply blaming the victims to recognizing the 
power of situational forces involved in this scenario. So let us not underestimate 
the power of "authority" to generate obedience to an extent and of a kind that is 
hard to fathom. 

Donna Summers, assistant manager at McDonald's in Mount Washington, 
Kentucky, fired for being deceived into participating in this authority phone hoax, 
expresses one of the main themes in our Lucifer Effect narrative about situational 
power. "You look back on it, and you say, I wouldn't a done it. But unless you're 
put in that situation, at that time, how do you know what you would do. You 

In her book Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer, the Canadian 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


sociologist Ester Reiter concludes that obedience to authority is the most valued 
trait in fast-food workers. "The assembly-line process very deliberately tries to 
take away any thought or discretion from workers. They are appendages to the 
machine, " she said in a recent interview. Retired FBI special agent Dan Jablonski, 
a private detective who investigated some of these hoaxes, said, "You and I can 
sit here and judge these people and say they were blooming idiots. But they 
aren't trained to use common sense. They are trained to say and think, 'Can I help 
you?' "" 


Recall that one of Milgram's motivations for initiating his research project was to 
understand how so many "good" German citizens could become involved in the 
brutal murder of millions of Jews. Rather than search for dispositional tendencies 
in the German national character to account for the evil of this genocide, he 
believed that features of the situation played a critical role; that obedience to 
authority was a "toxic trigger" for wanton murder. After completing his research, 
Milgram extended his scientific conclusions to a very dramatic prediction about 
the insidious and pervasive power of obedience to transform ordinary American 
citizens into Nazi death camp personnel: "If a system of death camps were set up 
in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to 
find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town."" 
Let us briefly consider this frightening prediction in light of five very different 
but fascinating inquiries into this Nazi connection with ordinary people willingly 
recruited to act against a declared "enemy of the state." The first two are class- 
room demonstrations by creative teachers with high school and grade school 
children. The third is by a former graduate student of mine who determined that 
American college students would indeed endorse the "final solution" if an au- 
thority figure provided sufficient justification for doing so. The last two directly 
studied Nazi SS and German policemen. 

Creating Nazis in an American Classroom 

Students in a Palo Alto, California, high school world history class were, like 
many of us, not able to comprehend the inhumanity of the Holocaust. How could 
such a racist and deadly social-political movement have thrived, and how could 
the average citizen have been ignorant of or indifferent to the suffering it imposed 
on fellow Jewish citizens? Their inventive teacher, Ron Jones, decided to modify his 
medium in order to make the message meaningful to these disbelievers. To do so, 
he switched from the usual didactic teaching method to an experiential learning 

He began by telling the class that they would simulate some aspects of the 
German experience in the coming week. Despite this forewarning, the role- 
playing "experiment" that took place over the next five days was a serious matter 


The Lucifer Effect 

for the students and a shock for the teacher, not to mention the principal and the 
students' parents. Simulation and reality merged as these students created a to- 
talitarian system of beliefs and coercive control that was all too much like that 
fashioned by Hitler's Nazi regime." 

First, Jones established new rigid classroom rules that had to be obeyed with- 
out question. All answers must be limited to three words or less and preceded by 
"Sir," as the student stood erect beside his or her desk. When no one challenged 
this and other arbitrary rules, the classroom atmosphere began to change. The 
more verbally fluent, intelligent students lost their positions of prominence as the 
less verbal, more physically assertive ones took over. The classroom movement 
was named "The Third Wave." A cupped-hand salute was introduced along with 
slogans that had to be shouted in unison on command. Each day there was a new 
powerful slogan: "Strength through discipline"; "Strength through community"; 
"Strength through action"; and "Strength through pride." There would be one 
more reserved for later on. Secret handshakes identified insiders, and critics had 
to be reported for "treason." Actions followed the slogans — making banners that 
were hung about the school, enlisting new members, teaching other students 
mandatory sitting postures, and so forth. 

The original core of twenty history students soon swelled to more than a 
hundred eager new Third Wavers. The students then took over the assignment, 
making it their own. They issued special membership cards. Some of the brightest 
students were ordered out of class. The new authoritarian in-group was delighted 
and abused their former classmates as they were taken away. 

Jones then confided to his followers that they were part of a nationwide 
movement to discover students who were willing to fight for political change. 
They were "a select group of young people chosen to help in this cause," he told 
them. A rally was scheduled for the next day at which a national presidential can- 
didate was supposed to announce on TV the formation of a new Third Wave 
Youth program. More than two hundred students filled the auditorium at Cub- 
berly High School in eager anticipation of this announcement. Exhilarated Wave 
members wearing white-shirted uniforms with homemade armbands posted ban- 
ners around the hall. While muscular students stood guard at the door, friends of 
the teacher posing as reporters and photographers circulated among the mass of 
"true believers." The TV was turned on, and everyone waited — and waited — for 
the big announcement of their next collective goose steps forward. They shouted. 
"Strength through discipline!" 

Instead, the teacher projected a film of the Nuremberg rally; the history of 
the Third Reich appeared in ghostly images. "Everyone must accept the blame — 
no one can claim that they didn't in some way take part." That was the final frame 
of the film and the end of the simulation. Jones explained the reason to all the as- 
sembled students for this simulation, which had gone way beyond his initial in- 
tention. He told them that the new slogan for them should be "Strength through 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


understanding." Jones went on to conclude, "You have been manipulated. 
Shoved by your own desires into the place you now find yourselves." 

Ron Jones got into trouble with the administration because the parents of the 
rejected classmates complained about their children being harassed and threat- 
ened by the new regime. Nevertheless, he concluded that many of these young- 
sters had learned a vital lesson by personally experiencing the ease with which 
their behavior could be so radically transformed by obeying a powerful authority 
within the context of a fascistlike setting. In his later essay about the "experi- 
ment," Jones noted that "In the four years I taught at Cubberly High School, no 
one ever admitted to attending the Third Wave rally. It was something we all 
wanted to forget." (After leaving the school a few years later, Jones began working 
with special education students in San Francisco. A powerful docudrama of this 
simulated Nazi experience, titled "The Wave," captured some of this transforma- 
tion of good kids into pseudo Hitler Youth. ") 

Creating Little Elementary School Beasties: Brown Eyes Versus Blue Eyes 

The power of authorities is demonstrated not only in the extent to which they can 
command obedience from followers, but also in the extent to which they can de- 
fine reality and alter habitual ways of thinking and acting. Case in point: Jane El- 
liott, a popular third-grade schoolteacher in the small rural town of Riceville, 
Iowa. Her challenge: how to teach white children from a small farm town with 
few minorities about the meaning of "brotherhood" and "tolerance." She decided 
to have them experience personally what it feels like to be an underdog and also 
the top dog, either the victim or the perpetrator of prejudice." 

This teacher arbitrarily designated one part of her class as superior to the 
other part, which was inferior — based only on their eye color. She began by in- 
forming her students that people with blue eyes were superior to those with 
brown eyes and gave a variety of supporting "evidence" to illustrate this truth, 
such as George Washington's having blue eyes and, closer to home, a student's fa- 
ther (who, the student had complained, had hit him) having brown eyes. 

Starting immediately, said Ms. Elliott, the children with blue eyes would be the 
special "superior" ones and the brown-eyed ones would be the "inferior" group. The 
allegedly more intelligent blue-eyes were given special privileges, while the inferior 
brown-eyes had to obey rules that enforced their second-class status, including 
wearing a collar that enabled others to recognize their lowly status from a distance. 

The previously friendly blue-eyed kids refused to play with the bad "brown- 
eyes," and they suggested that school officials should be notified that the 
brown-eyes might steal things. Soon fistfights erupted during recess, and one 
boy admitted hitting another "in the gut" because, "He called me brown-eyes, 
like being a black person, like a Negro." Within one day, the brown-eyed children 
began to do more poorly in their schoolwork and became depressed, sullen, and 
angry. They described themselves as "sad," "bad," "stupid," and "mean." 


The Lucifer Effect 

The next day was turnabout time. Mrs. Elliott told the class that she had been 
wrong — it was really the brown-eyed children who were superior and the blue- 
eyed ones who were inferior, and she provided specious new evidence to support 
this chromatic theory of good and evil. The blue-eyes now switched from their 
previously "happy," "good," "sweet," and "nice" self-labels to derogatory labels 
similar to those adopted the day before by the brown-eyes. Old friendship patterns 
between children temporarily dissolved and were replaced by hostility until this 
experiential project was ended and the children were carefully and fully debriefed 
and returned to their joy-filled classroom. 

The teacher was amazed at the swift and total transformation of so many of 
her students whom she thought she knew so well. Mrs. Elliott concluded. "What 
had been marvelously cooperative, thoughtful children became nasty, vicious, 
discriminating little third-graders. ... It was ghastly!" 

Endorsing the Final Solution in Hawaii: Ridding the World of Misfits 

Imagine that you are a college student at the University of Hawaii (Manoa cam- 
pus) among 5 70 other students in any of several large evening school psychology 
classes. Tonight your teacher, with his Danish accent, alters his usual lecture to 
reveal a threat to national security being created by the population explosion (a 
hot topic in the early 1 970s) This authority describes the emerging threat to 
society posed by the rapidly increasing number of people who are physically and 
mentally unfit. The problem is convincingly presented as a high-minded scientific 
project, endorsed by scientists and planned for the benefit of humanity. You are 
then invited to help in "the application of scientific procedures to eliminate the 
mentally and emotionally unfit." The teacher further justifies the need to take ac- 
tion with an analogy to capital punishment as a deterrent against violent crime. 
He tells you that your opinions are being solicited because you and the others as- 
sembled here are intelligent and well educated and have high ethical values. It is 
flattering to think that you are in this select company. (Recall the lure of C. S. 
Lewis's "Inner Ring.") In case there might be any lingering misgivings, he pro- 
vides assurances that much careful research would be carried out before action of 
any kind would be taken with these misfit human creatures. 

At this point, he wants only your opinions, recommendations, and personal 
views on a simple survey to be completed now by you and the rest of the students 
in the auditorium. You begin answering the questions because you have been per- 
suaded that this is a new vital issue about which your voice matters. You dili- 
gently answer each of the seven questions and discover that there is a lot of 
uniformity between your answers and those of the rest of the group. 

Ninety percent of you agree that there will always be some people more fit for 
survival than others. 

Regarding killing of the unfit: 79 percent wanted one person to be responsi- 
ble for the killing and another to carry out the act; 64 percent preferred 
anonymity for those who pressed the button with only one button causing death 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


though many were pressed; 89 percent judged that painless drugs would be the 
most efficient and humane method of inducing death. 

If required by law to assist, 89 percent wanted to be the one who assisted 
in the decisions, while 9 percent preferred to assist with the killings or both. Only 
6 percent of the students refused to answer. 

Most incredibly, fully 91 percent of all student respondents agreed with the 
conclusion that "under extreme circumstances it is entirely just to eliminate 
those judged most dangerous to the general welfare"! 

Finally, a surprising 29 percent supported this "final solution" even if it had 
to be applied to their own families!" 

So these American college students (night school students and thus older 
than usual) were willing to endorse a deadly plan to kill off all others who were 
judged by some authorities to be less fit to live than they were — after only a brief 
presentation by their teacher-authority. Now we can see how ordinary, even intel- 
ligent Germans could readily endorse Hitler's "Final Solution" against the Jews, 
which was reinforced in many ways by their educational system and strength- 
ened by systematic government propaganda. 

Ordinary Men Indoctrinated into Extraordinary Killing 

One of the clearest illustrations of my exploration of how ordinary people can be 
made to engage in evil deeds that are alien to their past history and moral values 
comes from a remarkable discovery by the historian Christopher Browning. He re- 
counts that in March 1942 about 80 percent of all victims of the Holocaust were 
still alive, but a mere eleven months later about 80 percent were dead. In this 
short period of time, the Endlosung (Hitler's "Final Solution") was energized by 
means of an intense wave of mobile mass murder squads in Poland. This genocide 
required mobilization of a large-scale killing machine at the same time that able- 
bodied German soldiers were needed on the collapsing Russian front. Because 
most Polish Jews lived in small towns and not large cities, the question that 
Browning raised about the German high command was "where had they found 
the manpower during this pivotal year of the war for such an astounding logisti- 
cal achievement in mass murder?"" 

His answer came from archives of Nazi war crimes, which recorded the activi- 
ties of Reserve Battalion 1 1 , a unit of about five hundred men from Hamburg, 
Germany. They were elderly family men, too old to be drafted into the Army; they 
came from working-class and lower-middle-class backgrounds, and they had no 
military police experience. They were raw recruits sent to Poland without warn- 
ing of, or any training in, their secret mission — the total extermination of all Jews 
living in the remote villages of Poland. In just four months they shot to death at 
point-blank range at least 3 8,000 Jews and had another 45,000 deported to the 
concentration camp at Treblinka. 

Initially, their commander told them that this was a difficult mission that 
must be obeyed by the battalion. However, he added that any individual could 


The Lucifer Effect 

refuse to execute these men, women, and children. The records indicate that at 
first about half the men refused and let the other police reservists engage in the 
mass murder. But over time, social modeling processes took over, as did guilt- 
induced persuasion by those reservists who had been doing the shooting, along 
with the usual group conformity pressures of "how would they be seen in the eyes 
of their comrades." By the end of their deadly journey, up to 90 percent of the 
men in Battalion 101 were blindly obedient to their battalion leader and were per- 
sonally involved in the shootings. Many of them posed proudly for photographs of 
their up-close and personal killing of Jews. Like those who took photos of the pris- 
oner abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison, these policemen posed in their "trophy photos" 
as proud destroyers of the Jewish menace. 

Browning makes it clear that there was no special selection of these men, nor 
self-selection, nor self-interest or careerism that could account for these mass 
murders. Instead, they were as "ordinary" as can be imagined — until they were 
put into a novel situation in which they had "official" permission and encourage- 
ment to act sadistically against people who were arbitrarily labeled as the 
"enemy." What is most evident in Browning's penetrating analysis of these daily 
acts of human evil is that these ordinary men were part of a powerful authority 
system, a political police state with ideological justifications for destroying Jews 
and intense indoctrination of the moral imperatives of discipline and loyalty and 
duty to the state. 

Interestingly, for the argument that I have been making that experimental re- 
search can have real-world relevance, Browning compared the underlying mecha- 
nisms operating in that far-off land at that distant time to the psychological 
processes at work in both the Milgram obedience studies and our Stanford Prison 
Experiment. The author goes on to note, "Zimbardo's spectrum of guard behavior 
bears an uncanny resemblance to the groupings that emerged within Reserve Po- 
lice Battalion 101" (p. 1 68) . He shows how some became sadistically "cruel and 
tough," enjoying the killing, whereas others were "tough, but fair" in "playing 
the rules," and a minority qualified as "good guards" who refused to kill and did 
small favors for the Jews. 

The psychologist Ervin Staub (who as a child survived the Nazi occupation of 
Hungary in a "protected house") concurs that most people under particular cir- 
cumstances have a capacity for extreme violence and destruction of human life. 
From his attempt to understand the roots of evil in genocide and mass violence 
around the world, Staub has come to believe that "Evil that arises out of ordinary 

thinking and is committed by ordinary people is the norm, not the exception 

Great evil arises out of ordinary psychological processes that evolve, usually with 
a progression along the continuum of destruction." He highlights the signifi- 
cance of ordinary people being caught up in situations where they can learn to 
practice evil acts that are demanded by higher-level authority systems: "Being 
part of a system shapes views, rewards adherence to dominant views, and makes 
deviation psychologically demanding and difficult."" 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


Having lived through the horrors of Auschwitz, John Steiner (my dear friend 
and sociologist colleague) returned for decades to Germany to interview hun- 
dreds of former Nazi SS men, from privates to generals. He needed to know what 
had made these men embrace such unspeakable evil day in and day out. Steiner 
found that many of these men were high on the F-Scale measure of authoritari- 
anism, which attracted them to the subculture of violence in the SS. He refers to 
them as "sleepers," people with certain traits that are latent and may never be ex- 
pressed except when particular situations activate these violent tendencies. He 
concludes that "the situation tended to be the most immediate determinant of SS 
behavior," rousing "sleepers" into active killers. However, from his massive inter- 
view data Steiner also found that these men had led normal — violence-free — lives 
both before and after their violent years in the concentration camp setting." 

Steiner's extensive experience with many of the SS men at a personal and 
scholarly level led him to advance two important conclusions about institutional 
power and the role enactment of brutality: "Institutional support for roles of vio- 
lence has apparently far more extensive effects than generally realized. When im- 
plicit, and especially explicit, social sanctions support such roles, people tend to be 
attracted to them who may not only derive satisfaction from the nature of their 
work but are quasiexecutioners in feeling as well as action." 

Steiner goes on to describe how roles can trump character traits: " [It] has be- 
come evident that not everyone playing a brutal role has to have sadistic traits of 
character. Those who continued in roles originally not conducive to their person- 
ality often changed their values (i.e., had a tendency to adjust to what was ex- 
pected of them in these roles). There were SS members who clearly identified with 
and enjoyed their positions. Finally there were those who were repulsed and sick- 
ened by what they were ordered to do. They tried to compensate by helping in- 
mates whenever possible. (This writer's life was saved by SS personnel on several 

It is important to acknowledge that the many hundreds of thousands of Ger- 
mans who became perpetrators of evil during the Holocaust were not doing so 
simply because they were following the orders given by authorities. Obedience to 
an authority system that gave permission and reward for murdering Jews was 
built on a scaffold of intense anti-Semitism that existed in Germany and other 
European nations at that time. This prejudice was given direction and resolve by 
the German chain of command to ordinary Germans, who became "Hitler's will- 
ing executioners," in the analysis by the historian Daniel Goldhagen." 

Although it is important to note the motivating role of Germans' hatred of 
Jews, Goldhagen's analysis suffers from two flaws. First, historical evidence shows 
that from the early nineteenth century on there was less anti-Semitism in Ger- 
many than in neighboring countries such as France and Poland. He also errs in 
minimizing the influence of Hitler's authority system — a network that glorified 
racial fanaticism and the particular situations created by the authorities, like the 
concentration camps, which mechanized genocide. It was the interaction of per- 


The Lucifer Effect 

sonal variables of German citizens with situational opportunities provided by a 
System of fanatical prejudice that combined to empower so many to become will- 
ing or unwilling executioners for their state. 


In 1963, the social philosopher Hannah Arendt published what was to become a 
classic of our times, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She 
provides a detailed analysis of the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi 
figure who personally arranged for the murder of millions of Jews. Eichmann' s 
defense of his actions was similar to the testimony of other Nazi leaders: "I was 
only following orders." As Arendt put it, "[Eichmann] remembered perfectly well 
that he would have had a bad conscience only if he had not done what he had 
been ordered to do — to ship millions of men, women, and children to their death 
with great zeal and the most meticulous care" (p. 2 5)." 

However, what is most striking in Arendt's account of Eichmann is all the 
ways in which he seemed absolutely ordinary: 

Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as "normal" — "More normal, 
at any rate, than I am after having examined him," one of them was said 
to have exclaimed, while another had found that his whole psychological 
outlook, his attitude toward his wife and children, mother and father, 
brothers, sisters, and friends, was "not only normal but most desirable" 
(pp. 25-26). 

Through her analysis of Eichmann, Arendt reached her famous conclusion: 

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and 
that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still 
are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal insti- 
tutions and our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much 
more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied . . . that 
this new type of criminal... commits his crimes under circumstances that 
make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or feel that he is doing wrong 
(p. 276). 

It was as though in those last minutes [of Eichmann's life] he was 
summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had 
taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying ba- 
nality of evil (p. 25 2). 

Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil" continues to resonate because geno- 
cide has been unleashed around the world and torture and terrorism continue to 
be common features of our global landscape. We prefer to distance ourselves from 
such a fundamental truth, seeing the madness of evildoers and senseless violence 
of tyrants as dispositional characters within their personal makeup. Arendt's 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


analysis was the first to deny this orientation by observing the fluidity with which 
social forces can prompt normal people to perform horrific acts. 

Torturers and Executioners: Pathological Types or Situational Imperatives? 

There is little doubt that the systematic torture by men of their fellow men and 
women represents one of the darkest sides of human nature. Surely, my col- 
leagues and I reasoned, here was a place where dispositional evil would be mani- 
fest among torturers who did their daily dirty deeds for years in Brazil as 
policemen sanctioned by the government to get confessions by torturing "subver- 
sive" enemies of the state. 

We began by focusing on the torturers, trying to understand both their psy- 
ches and the ways they were shaped by their circumstances, but we had to expand 
our analytical net to capture their comrades in arms who chose or were assigned 
to another branch of violence work: death squad executioners. They shared a 
"common enemy": men, women, and children who, though citizens of their state, 
even neighbors, were declared by "the System" to be threats to the country's na- 
tional security — as socialists and Communists. Some had to be eliminated effi- 
ciently, while others, who might hold secret information, had to be made to yield 
it up by torture, confess to their treason, and then be killed. 

In carrying out this mission, these torturers could rely in part on the "crea- 
tive evil" embodied in torture devices and techniques that had been refined over 
centuries since the Inquisition by officials of the Catholic Church and later of 
many nation-states. However, they had to add a measure of improvisation when 
dealing with particular enemies to overcome their resistance and resiliency. Some 
of them claimed innocence, refused to acknowledge their culpability, or were 
tough enough not to be intimidated by most coercive interrogation tactics, ft took 
time and emerging insights into human weaknesses for these torturers to become 
adept at their craft. By contrast, the task of the death squads was easy. With hoods 
for anonymity, guns, and group support, they could dispatch their duty to coun- 
try swiftly and impersonally: "just business." For a torturer, the work could never 
be just business. Torture always involves a personal relationship: it is essential for 
the torturer to understand what kind of torture to employ, what intensity of tor- 
ture to use on a certain person at a certain time. Wrong kind or too little — no con- 
fession. Too much — the victim dies before confessing, In either case, the torturer 
fails to deliver the goods and incurs the wrath of the senior officers. Learning to 
determine the right kind and degree of torture that yields up the desired informa- 
tion elicits abounding rewards and flowing praise from one's superiors. 

What kind of men could do such deeds? Did they need to rely on sadistic 
impulses and a history of sociopathic life experiences to rip and tear the flesh of 
fellow beings day in and day out for years on end? Were these violence workers a 
breed apart from the rest of humanity, bad seeds, bad tree trunks, and bad flow- 
ers? Or is it conceivable that they could be ordinary people, programmed to carry 
out their deplorable acts by means of some identifiable and replicable training 


The Lucifer Effect 

programs? Could we identify a set of external conditions, situational variables, 
that had contributed to the making of these torturers and killers? If their evil 
actions were not traceable to inner defects but rather attributable to outer forces 
acting on them — the political, economic, social, historical, and experiential com- 
ponents of their police training — we might be able to generalize across cultures 
and settings and discover some of the operative principles responsible for this re- 
markable human transformation. 

The sociologist and Brazil expert Martha Huggins, the Greek psychologist 
and torture expert Mika Haritos-Fatouros, and I interviewed several dozen of 
these violence workers in depth at various venues in Brazil. (For a summary of 
our methods and detailed findings about these violence workers, see Huggins, 
Haritos-Fatouros, and Zimbardo 44 ). Mika had done a similar, earlier study of tor- 
turers trained by the Greek military junta, and our results were largely congruent 
with hers." We found that sadists are selected out of the training process by 
trainers because they are not controllable, get off on the pleasure of inflicting 
pain, and thus do not sustain the focus on the goal of extraction of confessions. 
Thus, from all the evidence we could muster, torturers and death squad execu- 
tioners were not unusual or deviant in any way prior to practicing their new 
roles, nor were there any persisting deviant tendencies or pathologies among any 
of them in the years following their work as torturers and executioners. Their 
transformation was entirely explainable as being the consequence of a number of 
situational and systemic factors, such as the training they were given to play this 
new role; their group camaraderie; acceptance of the national security ideology; 
and their learned belief in socialists and Communists as enemies of their state. 
Other situational influences contributing to the new behavioral style included 
being made to feel special, above and better than their peers in public service by 
being awarded this special assignment; the secrecy of their duties being shared 
only with comrades in arms; and the constant pressure to produce results regard- 
less of fatigue or personal problems. 

We reported many detailed case studies that document the ordinariness of 
the men engaged in these most heinous of acts, sanctioned by their government, 
and secretly supported by the CIA at that point in the Cold War (1964-1985) 
against Soviet communism. The account Torture in Brazil, by members of the 
Catholic Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, provides detailed information of the extensive 
involvement of CIA agents in the torture training of Brazilian police. 4 " Such in- 
formation is consistent with all that is known of the systematic instruction in in- 
terrogation and torture offered at the "School of the Americas" to operatives from 
countries sharing a common enemy in communism. 4 ' 

However, my colleagues and I believe that such deeds are reproducible at any 
time in any nation when there is an obsession with threats to national security. 
Before the fears and excesses engendered by the recent "war against terrorism," 
there was the nearly perpetual "war against crime" in many urban centers. In 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


New York City's police department, that "war" spawned "the commandos of the 
NYPD." This insular police team was given free rein to hunt down alleged rapists, 
robbers, and muggers as local conditions dictated. They wore T-shirts with their 
motto, "There is no hunting like the hunting of men." Their battle cry was "We 
own the night." Such a professionalized police culture was comparable to that of 
the Brazilian police-torturers we had studied. One of their notable atrocities was 
the murder of an African immigrant (Amadou Diallo, from Guinea), gunning 
him down with more than forty bullets while he tried to pull out his wallet to give 
them his ID." Sometimes "bad shit happens," but usually there are identifiable 
situational and systemic forces operating to make it happen. 

Suicide Bombers: Mindless Fanatics or Mindful Martyrs? 

Amazingly, what holds true for these violence workers is comparable to the trans- 
formation of young Palestinians from students into suicide bombers intent on 
killing innocent Israeli civilians. Recent media accounts converge on the findings 
from more systematic analyses of the process of becoming a suicidal killer." 

Who adopts this fatalistic role? Is it poor, desperate, socially isolated, illiterate 
young people with no career and no future? Not at all. According to the results of 
a recent study of four hundred al-Qaeda members, three quarters of that sample 
came from the upper or middle class. This study by the forensic psychiatrist Marc 
Sageman also found other evidence of the normality and even superiority of 
these youths turned suicide bombers. The majority, 90 percent, came from car- 
ing, intact families. Two thirds had gone to college; two thirds were married; and 
most had children and jobs in science and engineering. "These are the best and 
brightest of their society in many ways," Sageman concludes." 1 

Anger, revenge, and outrage at perceived injustice are the motivational trig- 
gers for deciding to die for the cause. "People desire death when two fundamental 
needs are frustrated to the point of extinction," according to the psychologist 
Thomas Joiner in his treatise Why People Die by Suicide. The first need is one we 
have pointed to as central to conformity and social power, the need to belong with 
or connect to others. The second need is the need to feel effective with or to influ- 
ence others." 

Ariel Merari, an Israeli psychologist who has studied this phenomenon 
extensively for many years, outlines the common steps on the path to these explo- 
sive deaths." First, senior members of an extremist group identify young people 
who appear to have an intense patriotic fervor based on their declarations at a 
public rally against Israel or their support of some Islamic cause or Palestinian ac- 
tion. Next, they are invited to discuss how seriously they love their country and 
hate Israel. They are asked to commit to being trained. Those who do commit be- 
come part of a small secret cell of three to five youths. They learn the tricks of the 
trade from their elders: bomb making, disguise, and selecting and timing targets. 

Finally, they make public their private commitment by making a videotape, 


The Lucifer Effect 

declaring themselves to be "the living martyr" for Islam ("al-shahid-al-hai"). In 
one hand they hold the Koran, in the other a rifle; the insignia on their headband 
declares their new status. This video binds them to the final deed, because it is sent 
to their families. The recruits are also told the Big Lie that not only will they earn 
a place beside Allah, but their relatives will also be entitled to a high place in 
Heaven because of their martyrdom. The suicidal pie is sweetened with a sizable 
financial incentive, or a monthly pension, that goes to their family. 

Their photo is emblazoned on posters that will be put on walls everywhere in 
the community the moment they succeed in their mission — to become inspira- 
tional models for the next round of suicide bombers. To stifle their concerns about 
the pain from wounds inflicted by exploding nails and other bomb parts, the re- 
cruits are assured that before the first drop of their blood touches the ground they 
will already be seated at the side of Allah, feeling no pain, only pleasure. The die is 
cast; their minds have been carefully prepared to do what is ordinarily unthink- 
able. Of course, the rhetoric of dehumanization serves to deny the humanity and 
innocence of their victims. 

In these systematic ways a host of normal, angry young men and women 
become transformed into heroes and heroines. Their lethal actions model self- 
sacrifice and total commitment as true believers to the cause of the oppressed. 
That message is sent loud and clear to the next cadre of young suicide bombers in 

We can see that this program utilizes a variety of social psychological and 
motivational principles to assist in turning collective hatred and general frenzy 
into a dedicated, seriously calculated program of indoctrination and training for 
individuals to become youthful living martyrs. It is neither mindless nor sense- 
less, only a very different mind-set and with different sensibilities than we have 
been used to witnessing among young adults in most countries. 

For his new film, Suicide Killers, the French filmmaker Pierre Rehov inter- 
viewed many Palestinians in Israeli jails who were caught before detonating their 
bombs or had abetted would-be attacks. His conclusion about them resonates 
with the analyses presented here: "Every single one of them tried to convince me 
it was the right thing to do for moralistic reasons. These aren't kids who want to 

do evil. These are kids who want to do good The result of this brainwashing 

was kids who were very good people inside (were) believing so much that they 
were doing something great."" 

The suicide, the murder, of any young person is a gash in the fabric of the 
human family that we elders from every nation must unite to prevent. To encour- 
age the sacrifice of youth for the sake of advancing the ideologies of the old must 
be considered a form of evil that transcends local politics and expedient strategies. 

"Perfect 9/11 Soldiers" and "Ordinary British Lads" Are Bombing Us 

Two final examples of the "ordinariness" of mass murderers are worth mention- 
ing. The first comes from an in-depth study of the 9/11 hijackers, whose suicidal 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., resulted in the deaths 
of nearly three thousand innocent civilians. The second comes from the London 
police reports of suspected suicide bombers of London's Underground and a dou- 
ble-decker bus in June 200 5 that resulted in scores of deaths and serious injuries. 

The carefully researched portraits of several of the 9/11 terrorists by the re- 
porter Terry McDermott in Perfect Soldiers underscores just how ordinary these 
men were in their everyday lives." His research led McDermott to an ominous 
conclusion: "It is likely that there are a great many more men just like them" out 
there throughout the world. One review of this book takes us back to Arendt's 
banality-of-evil thesis, updated for our new era of global terrorism. The New York 
Times' reviewer Michiko Kakutani offers us a scary postscript: "Perfect Soldiers re- 
places the caricatures of outsize 'evil geniuses' and 'wild-eyed fanatics' with por- 
traits of the 9/11 plotters as surprisingly mundane people, people who might 
easily be our neighbors or airplane seatmates."" 

That frightening scenario was played out in the subsequent coordinated at- 
tacks on London's transit system by a team of suicide bombers, "mundane mur- 
derers," who anonymously rode a subway train or a bus. To their friends, 
relatives, and neighbors in the northern England city of Leeds, these young Mus- 
lim men were "ordinary British lads. "" Nothing in their past history would mark 
them as dangerous; indeed, everything about them enabled these "ordinary lads" 
to fit in seamlessly in their town, at theirjobs. One was a skilled cricket player who 
gave up drinking and women to lead a more devout life. Another was the son of a 
local businessman who ran a fish-and-chips shop. Another was a counselor who 
worked effectively with disabled children and had recently become a father and 
moved his family into a new home. Unlike the 9/11 hijackers, who had raised 
some suspicions as foreigners seeking flight training in the United States, these 
young men were homegrown, flying well below any police radar. "It's completely 
out of character for him. Someone must have brainwashed him and made him do 
it," reflected a friend of one of them. 

"The most terrifying thing about suicide bombers is their sheer normality," 
concludes Andrew Silke, an expert on the subject." He notes that in all the foren- 
sic examinations of the bodies of dead suicide bombers there have never been 
traces of alcohol or drugs. Their mission is undertaken with a clear mind and dedi- 

And as we have seen, whenever there has been a student shooting in a 
school, as in Columbine High School in the United States, those who thought they 
knew the perpetrators typically report, "He was such a good kid, from a re- 
spectable family. . . you just can't believe he would do it." This harkens back to the 
point I raised in our first chapter — how well do we really know other people? — 
and its corollary — how well do we know ourselves to be certain of how we would 
behave in novel situations under intense situational pressures? 


The Lucifer Effect 


Our final extension of the social psychology of evil from artificial laboratory ex- 
periments to real-world contexts comes to us from the jungles of Guyana, where 
an American religious leader persuaded more than nine hundred of his followers 
to commit mass suicide or be killed by their relatives and friends on November 28, 
1978. Jim Jones, the pastor of Peoples Temple congregations in San Francisco 
and Los Angeles, set out to create a socialist Utopia in this South American na- 
tion, where brotherhood and tolerance would be dominant over the materialism 
and racism he loathed in the United States. But over time and place Jones was 
transformed from the caring, spiritual "father" of this large Protestant congrega- 
tion into an Angel of Death — a truly cosmic transformation of Luciferian propor- 
tions. For now I want only to establish the obedience to authority link between 
Milgram's basement laboratory in New Haven and this jungle-killing field." 

The dreams of the many poor members of the Peoples Temple for a new and 
better life in this alleged Utopia were demolished when Jones instituted extended 
forced labor, armed guards, total restriction of all civil liberties, semistarvation 
diets, and daily punishments amounting to torture for the slightest breach of any 
of his many rules. When concerned relatives convinced a congressman to inspect 
the compound, along with a media crew, Jones arranged for them to be murdered 
as they were leaving. He then gathered almost all of the members who were at the 
compound and gave a long speech in which he exhorted them all to take their 
lives by drinking poison, cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Those who refused were forced 
to drink by the guards or shot trying to escape, but it appears as though most 
obeyed their leader. 

Jones was surely an egomaniac; he had all of his speeches and proclama- 
tions, and even his torture sessions tape-recorded — including this last-hour sui- 
cide drill. In it Jones distorts reality, lies, pleads, makes false analogies, appeals to 
ideology and to transcendent future lives, and outright insists that they follow his 
orders, as his staff is efficiently distributing the deadly poison to the more than 
nine hundred members gathered around him. Some excerpts from that last hour 
convey a sense of the death-dealing tactics he used to induce total obedience to an 
authority gone mad: 

Please get us some medication. It's simple. It's simple. There's no convul- 
sions with it [of course there are, especially for the children] Don't be 

afraid to die. You'll see, there'll be a few people land out here. They'll tor- 
ture some of our children here. They'll torture our people. They'll torture 
our seniors. We cannot have this Please, can we hasten? Can we has- 
ten with that medication? You don't know what you've done. I tried. . . . 
Please. For God's sake, let's get on with it. We've lived — we've lived as no 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


other people lived and loved. We've had as much of this world as you're 
gonna get. Let's just be done with it. Let's be done with the agony of it. 
[Applause.]. . . . Who wants to go with their child has a right to go 
with their child. I think it's humane. I want to go — I want to see you go, 

though It's not to be afeared. It is not to be feared. It is a friend. It's a 

friend. . . sitting there, show your love for one another. Let's get gone. Let's 
get gone. Let's get gone. [Children crying.]. . . . Lay down your life with 
dignity. Don't lay down with tears and agony. There's nothing to death. . . . 
it's just stepping over to another plane. Don't be this way. Stop this hyster- 
ics. . . . No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity. We must die 

with some dignity. We will have no choice. Now we have some choice 

Look children, it's just something to put you to rest. Oh, God. [Children 
crying.]. . . . Mother, Mother, Mother, Mother, Mother, please. Mother, 
please, please, please. Don't — don't do this. Don't do this. Lay down your 
life with your child. [The full transcript is available online; see the Notes."] 

And they did, and they died for "Dad." The power of charismatic tyrannical 
leaders, like Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler, endures even after they do terrible things 
to their followers, and even after their demise. Whatever little good they may have 
done earlier somehow comes to dominate the legacy of their evil deeds in the 
minds of the faithful. Consider the example of a young man, Gary Scott, who fol- 
lowed his father into the Peoples Temple but was expelled for being disobedient. In 
his statement as he called the National Call-in following the broadcast of the NPR 
show "Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown," by James Reston, Jr., Gary describes 
how he was punished for an infraction of the rules. He was beaten, whipped, sex- 
ually abused, and forced to endure his worst fear of having a boa constrictor 
crawling all over him. But, more important, listen to the articulation of his endur- 
ing reaction to this torment. Does he hate Jim Jones? Not one bit. He has become 
a "true believer," a "faithful follower." Even though his father died in Jonestown at 
that poison fount, and he himself was brutally tortured and humiliated, Gary 
publically states that he still admires and even loves his "dad" — Jim Jones. Not 
even George Orwell's omnipotent 1984 Party could honestly claim such a victory. 

Now we need to go beyond conformity and authority obedience. Powerful as these 
are, they are only starters. In the confrontation of potential perpetrators and vic- 
tims, like guard and prisoner, torturer and sufferer, suicide bomber and civilian 
victims, there are processes that operate to change the psychological makeup of 
one or the other. Deindividuation makes the perpetrator anonymous, thereby re- 
ducing personal accountability, responsibility, and self-monitoring. This allows 
perpetrators to act without conscience-inhibiting limits. Dehumanization takes 
away the humanity of potential victims, rendering them as animallike, or as 
nothing. We will also inquire about conditions that make bystanders to evil be- 
come passive observers and not active intruders, helpers, or whistle-blowing he- 


The Lucifer Effect 

roes. That slice of the evil of inaction is really a cornerstone of evil because it al- 
lows perpetrators to believe that others who knew what was going on accepted 
and approved it even if only by their silence. 

A fitting conclusion to our investigation of the social dynamics of conformity 
and obedience comes from the Harvard psychologist Mahrzarin Banaji: 

What social psychology has given to an understanding of human nature 
is the discovery that forces larger than ourselves determine our mental life 
and our actions — chief among these forces [is] the power of the social 


Investigating Social Dynamics: 
Deindividuation, Dehumanization, and 
the Evil of Inaction 

The historical account of humans is a heap of conspiracies, re- 
bellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, banishments, the 
very worst effects that avarice, faction, hypocrisy, perfidious- 
ness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice, and am- 
bition could produce.... I cannot but conclude the bulk of your 
natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin 
that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth. 

— Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1727)' 

Perhaps Jonathan Swift's total condemnation of our human race — of us 
Yahoos — is a bit extreme, but consider that he wrote this critique several hundred 
years before the advent of genocides throughout the modern world, before the 
Holocaust. His views reflect a basic theme in Western literature that "Mankind" 
has suffered a great fall from its original state of perfection, starting with Adam's 
act of disobedience against God when he succumbed to Satan's temptation. 

The social philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau elaborated this theme of the 
corrupting influence of social forces by envisioning human beings as "noble, 
primitive savages" whose virtues were diminished by contact with corrupting 
society. In stark opposition to this conception of human beings as the innocent 
victims of an all-powerful, malignant society is the view that people are born 
evil — genetic bad seeds. Our species is driven by wanton desires, unlimited 
appetites, and hostile impulses unless people are transformed into rational, rea- 
sonable, compassionate human beings by education, religion, and family, or con- 
trolled by the discipline imposed upon them by the authority of the State. 

Where do you stand in this ages-old debate? Are we born good and then 
corrupted by an evil society or born evil and redeemed by a good society? Before 
casting your ballot, consider an alternative perspective. Maybe each of us has the 
capacity to be a saint or a sinner, altruistic or selfish, gentle or cruel, dominant 
or submissive, perpetrator or victim, prisoner or guard. Maybe it is our social cir- 
cumstances that determine which of our many mental templates, our potentials, 
we develop. Scientists are discovering that embryonic stem cells are capable of be- 
coming virtually any kind of cell or tissue and ordinary skin cells can be turned 
into embryonic stem cells. It is tempting to expand these biological concepts and 


The Lucifer Effect 

what is now known about the developmental plasticity of the human brain to the 
"plasticity" of human nature. 2 

What we are is shaped both by the broad systems that govern our lives — 
wealth and poverty, geography and climate, historical epoch, cultural, political 
and religious dominance — and by the specific situations we deal with daily. Those 
forces in turn interact with our basic biology and personality. I have argued ear- 
lier that the potential for perversion is inherent in the complexity of the human 
mind. The impulse toward evil and the impulse toward good together comprise 
the most fundamental duality in human nature. This conception offers a com- 
plex, richer portrait of the pride and puzzles in human actions. 

We have examined the power of group conformity and obedience to authority 
that can dominate and subvert individual initiative. Next, we add insights from 
research into the domains of deindividuation, dehumanization, and bystander 
apathy, or the "evil of inaction." This information will complete the foundation 
for us to fully appreciate how ordinary, good individuals — perhaps even you, gen- 
tle reader — can be led at times to do bad things to others, even bad deeds that 
violate any sense of common decency or morality. 


William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies asks how a simple change in one's exter- 
nal appearance can trigger dramatic changes in overt behavior. Good British 
choirboys are transformed into murderous little beasts by simply painting their 
faces. When food runs out on their desert island, a group of boys, led by Jack Mer- 
ridew, try to kill a pig — but they can't complete the act because killing has been 
inhibited by their Christian morality. Then Jack decides to paint his face into a 
mask, and as he does, a frightening metamorphosis occurs as he sees his reflec- 
tion in the water: 

He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome 
stranger. He spilt the water and leapt to his feet, laughing excitedly. Beside 
the pool his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled 
them [the other boys] . He began to dance and his laughter became a blood- 
thirsty snarling. He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its 
own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness. 

After the other boys in Jack's gang also disguise themselves with painted 
masks, they are readily able to "Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.'" Once 
that alien deed of killing another creature is accomplished, they then relish the 
fun of killing both animals and their human enemies, notably the intellectual boy 
nicknamed "Piggy." Might makes right, and all hell breaks loose as Ralph, the 
good-boy leader, is hunted down by the herd. 

Is there any psychological validity to the notion that disguising one's exter- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


nal appearance can drastically infect behavioral processes? I attempted to answer 
that question with a set of studies that helped stimulate a new field of inquiry 
on the psychology of deindividuation and antisocial behavior.* 

The Shocking Behavior of Anonymous Women 

The basic procedure in this first experiment involved having female college stu- 
dents believe they were delivering a series of painful electric shocks to other 
women, under the guise of a believable "cover story." They would have multiple 
opportunities to shock each of two other young women whom they saw and 
heard from behind a one-way mirror. Half of the student volunteers were ran- 
domly assigned to a condition of anonymity, or deindividuation, half to a condition 
where their identity was made salient, or individuation. The four college student 
subjects, in each of the ten separately tested deindividuation groups, had their ap- 
pearance concealed by hoods and loose, oversized lab coats, their names replaced 
by numbers, one to four. The experimenter treated them as an anonymous group, 
not as individuals. These procedures were performed allegedly to mask their non- 
verbal behavior so that others could not detect their reactions. The comparison 
group, by contrast, was given name tags that helped to make them feel unique, 
but everything else was the same for them as for those in the deindividuated 
groups. Both the deindividuated and the comparison subjects were in four- 
woman groups, and both were asked to repeatedly shock each of two women 
"victims" over the course of twenty trials. 

The cover story was that the target women were subjects in a study of crea- 
tivity under stress. The job of our participants was to stress them by administer- 
ing painful electric shocks while I, as the experimenter in the next room, also 
behind the mirror, administered the creativity test. 

Unlike in the Milgram paradigm, there was no authority directly pressuring 
them to act aggressively by delivering these painful shocks because I did not inter- 
act with them at all during the shock episodes. The students could see me through 
the observation window along with each of the two women in the alleged crea- 
tivity study. In addition, there was no group conformity pressure exerted on them 
because they did not interact with one another, being in separate cubicles adja- 
cent to one another. Finally, there was not even pressure on them to perform the 
task in order not to violate the rationale for the study. If any one of the four group 
members delivered a shock, the target woman would act hurt, so there would be 
sufficient stress induced to impact her creativity. Thus, not shocking would 
be neither disobedient nor confrontational — one could be merely a passive ob- 
server of teammates' shocking instead of an active perpetrator. 

The behavior of interest was the duration of shock administered — how long 
each student continued to hold down the shock button after the shock-ready sig- 
nal appeared. Their decision was not whether to press the shock switch but how 
quickly to pull their finger off the switch or to keep pressing it down and deliver 


The Lucifer Effect 

longer shocks to the victims. Of course, they could choose not to follow the in- 
structions and refuse to even press the shock switch at all (no one ever did that). 

One of the complicit women had been portrayed as very nice, the other as 
"bitchy," in their tape-recorded interviews. This was done to create divergent atti- 
tudes toward them in the minds of their "stress inducers." Actually, they were 
both research confederates, trained to act as though they were in pain when a 
shock light lit up and to give a convincing performance that the students in the 
other room could witness. 

Before the experiment began, each of the students in the study was given a 
sample of the painful shock (of 75 volts) so they knew that it would hurt — but of 
course, no shock was actually given in the experiment. For each of twenty trials, 
the women had to decide whether and for how long they would administer this 
standard level of painful shock to a woman who was seemingly suffering in pain 
from their actions. Then, after the first target woman left, she was replaced by the 
second target woman for yet another round of twenty shock trials. Because each 
member of the four-person experimental and comparison groups was tested in 
adjacent individual cubicles, their "teammates" could not directly influence their 
behavior. Nevertheless, they had a sense of being in a group from having been to- 
gether initially while they listened together to the tape recordings. It is important 
to note that except for the manipulation of anonymity versus identifiability, 
everything in the study was identical for both groups. 

The results were clear: The women in the deindividuation condition delivered 
twice as much shock to both victims as did the comparison women who had been 
randomly assigned to the individuated condition. Moreover, the women who were 
anonymous shocked both victims equally, the one they had previously rated as 
pleasant and the other they had rated as unpleasant. It did not matter what they 
had previously felt about them once they had their finger on the trigger. They also 
increased shock time for both over the course of the twenty trials, holding their 
finger down ever longer on the shock switch as their victims twisted and moaned 
right before them. In contrast, the individuated women discriminated between 
the likeable and unpleasant targets, shocking the pleasant woman less over time 
than they did the unpleasant one. 

That the anonymous women ignored their previous liking or disliking of the 
two target women when they had the chance to harm them speaks to a dramatic 
change in their mentality when in this psychological state of deindividuation. 
The escalation of shock, with repeated opportunities to administer its painful 
consequences, appears to be an upward-spiraling effect of the emotional arousal 
that is being experienced. The agitated behavior becomes self-reinforcing, each 
action stimulating a stronger, less controlled next reaction. Experientially, it 
comes not from sadistic motives of wanting to harm others but rather from the 
energizing sense of one's domination and control over others at that moment in 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


This basic paradigm has been repeated with comparable results in a host of 
laboratory and field studies, using deindividuating masks, administering white 
noise, or throwing Styrofoam balls at the target victims, and with military per- 
sonnel from the Belgian Army as well as with schoolchildren and a variety of col- 
lege students. Similar escalations of shock over time were also found in a study 
where teacher-shockers were supposed to be educating their pupil-victims — they 
too delivered increasing levels of shock across training sessions.' 

The Stanford Prison Experiment, as you recall, relied on the deindividuating 
silver reflecting sunglasses for the guards and staff along with standard military- 
style uniforms. One important conclusion flows from this body of research: any- 
thing, or any situation, that makes people feel anonymous, as though no one 
knows who they are or cares to know, reduces their sense of personal account- 
ability, thereby creating the potential for evil action. This becomes especially true 
when a second factor is added: if the situation or some agency gives them permis- 
sion to engage in antisocial or violent action against others, as in these research 
settings, people are ready to go to war. If, instead, the situation conveys merely a 
reduction of self-centeredness with anonymity and encourages prosocial behav- 
ior, people are ready to make love. (Anonymity in party settings often makes for 
more socially engaging parties.) So William Golding's insight about anonymity 
and aggression was psychologically valid — but in more complex and interesting 
ways than he depicted. 

Sure, this robe of mine doth change my disposition. 
— William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale 

Anonymity can be conferred on others not only with masks but also by the way 
that people are treated in given situations. When others treat you as if you are not 
a unique individual but just an undifferentiated "other" being processed by the 
System, or your existence is ignored, you feel anonymous. The sense of a lack of 
personal identifiability can also induce antisocial behavior. When a researcher 
treated college student research volunteers either humanely or as "guinea pigs" 
in an experiment, guess who ripped him off when he wasn't looking? Later on, 
these students found themselves alone in the professor-researcher's office with 
the opportunity to steal coins and pens from a bowl full of them. Those who were 
in the anonymity condition stole much more often than did the humanely treated 
students.* Kindness can be more than its own reward. 

Halloween Aggression by Schoolchildren 

What happens when children go to an unusual Halloween party where they put 
on costumes and are given permission by their teacher to play aggressive games 
for prizes? Will anonymity plus opportunity to aggress lead children to engage in 
more aggression over time? 


The Lucifer Effect 

Elementary school children attended a special, experimental Halloween 
party given by their teacher and supervised by a social psychologist, Scott Fraser.' 
There were many games to play, and the children could win tokens for each game 
they won. These tokens could be exchanged for gifts at the end of the party. The 
more tokens you won, the better the toys you could get, so the motivation to win 
as many tokens as possible was high. 

Half the games were nonaggressive in nature, and half involved confronta- 
tions between two children to reach the goal. For example, a nonaggressive game 
might have individual students trying to speedily retrieve a beanbag in a tube, 
while a potentially aggressive game would entail two students competing to be 
the first one to get that one beanbag out of the tube. The aggression observed typi- 
cally involved the competitors' pushing and shoving each other. It was not very 
extreme but was characteristic of first-stage physical encounters between chil- 

The experimental design used only one group, in which each child served as his 
or her own control. This procedure is known as the A-B-A format — pre-baseline/ 
change introduced/post-baseline. The children first played the games without 
costumes (A), then with costumes (B), then again without costumes (A). Initially, 
while the games were played, the teacher said the costumes were on the way so 
they would start the fun while they waited for them to arrive. Then, when the cos- 
tumes arrived, they were put on in different rooms so the children's identities 
were not known to each other, and they played the same games but now in cos- 
tume. In the third phase, the costumes were removed (allegedly to be given to 
other children in other parties) and the games continued as in the first phase. 
Each phase of the games lasted about an hour. 

The data are striking testimony to the power of anonymity. Aggression 
among these young schoolchildren increased significantly as soon as they put the 
costumes on. The percentage of the total time that these children played the ag- 
gressive games more than doubled from their initial base level average, up from 
42 percent (in A) to 86 percent (in B). Equally interesting was the second major 
result: aggression had a high negative payoff. The more time a child spent en- 
gaged in the aggressive games, the fewer tokens she or he won during that phase 
of the party. Being aggressive thus cost the children a loss of tokens. Acting in the 
aggressive games took more time than the nonaggressive games and only one of 
two contestants could win, so overall, being aggressive lost valued prizes. How- 
ever, that did not matter when the children were costumed and anonymous. The 
smallest number of tokens won was during the second, anonymity B, phase, 
where aggression was highest: only an average of 31 tokens were won, compared 
to 58 tokens in the A phase. 

A third important finding was that there was no carryover of aggressive be- 
havior from the high level in the B phase to the last A-phase level, which was com- 
parable to the initial A phase. The percentage of aggressive acts dropped to 36 
percent, and the number of tokens won soared to 79. Thus, we can conclude that 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


the behavior change brought on by anonymity did not create a dispositional, in- 
ternal change, but only an outward response change. Change the situation, and 
behavior changes in lockstep fashion. The use of this A-B-A design also makes ap- 
parent that perceived anonymity was sufficient to dramatically alter behavior in 
each time frame. Anonymity facilitated aggression even though the conse- 
quences of that physical aggression were not in the child's best immediate inter- 
est of winning tokens exchangeable for fine prizes. Aggression became its own 
reward. Goals that were distant took a backseat to "the fun and games" of the pre- 
sent moment. (We will see a similar phenomenon operating in some of the Abu 
Ghraib abuses.) 

In a related field study, Halloween trick-or-treaters visiting local homes in 
their own costumes were more likely to steal goodies when they were anonymous 
than when identifiable. Friends of the researchers put out bowls filled with can- 
dies and others with coins, each of which was labeled "Take one." Going beyond 
that limit constituted a transgression, stealing. Some children arrived alone, oth- 
ers in groups of friends. In the anonymous condition, the homeowner made it evi- 
dent that he or she could not tell who they were. With their identities concealed 
by their costumes, the majority of those in groups stole the candy and money 
(just as did those college students in the study where they were treated as "guinea 
pigs"). This was in contrast to the nonanonymous condition, wherein the adult 
host had first asked them to reveal their identity behind their masks." 

Among the more than seven hundred children studied in this natural situa- 
tion, more transgressions were found when they were in anonymous groups (57 
percent) than when anonymous and alone (21 percent). Fewer transgressions oc- 
curred when nonanonymous children were alone (8 percent) than when they 
were in groups of other nonanonymous trick-or-treaters (21 percent). Even when 
alone and identifiable, the temptation of easy money and delicious treats was too 
great for some children to pass up. However, adding the full-anonymity dimen- 
sion turned that singular temptation into an overwhelming passion for most chil- 
dren to take all the goodies they could. 

Cultural Wisdom: How to Make Warriors Kill in War but Not at Home 

Let's leave the laboratory and the games at children's parties to go back to the real 
world, where these issues of anonymity and violence may take on life-and-death 
significance. Specifically, let's look at the differences between societies that go to 
war without having young male warriors change their appearance and those 
that always include ritual transformations of appearance by painting faces and 
bodies or masking the warriors (as in Lord of the Flies). Does a change in external 
appearance make a significant difference in how warring enemies are then 

A cultural anthropologist. R. J. Watson," posed that question after reading my 
earlier work on deindividuation. His data source was the Human Relations Area 
Files, where information on cultures around the world is archived in the form of 


The Lucifer Effect 

reports of anthropologists, missionaries, psychologists, and others. Watson found 
two pieces of data on societies in which warriors did or did not change their ap- 
pearance prior to going to war and the extent to which they killed, tortured, or 
mutilated their victims, a decidedly deadly dependent variable — the ultimate in 
outcome measures. 

The results are striking confirmation of the prediction that anonymity pro- 
motes destructive behavior — when permission is also given to behave in aggres- 
sive ways that are ordinarily prohibited. War provides the institutionally approved 
permission to kill or wound one's adversaries. This investigator found that, of the 
twenty-three societies for which these two data sets were present, in fifteen war- 
riors changed their appearance. They were the societies that were the most de- 
structive; fully 80 percent of them (twelve of fifteen) brutalized their enemies. By 
contrast, in seven of eight of the societies in which the warriors did not change 
their appearance before going into battle, they did not engage in such destructive 
behavior. Another way to look at this data is that 90 percent of the time when vic- 
tims of battle were killed, tortured, or mutilated, it was by warriors who had first 
changed their appearance and deindividuated themselves. 

Cultural wisdom dictates that a key ingredient in transforming ordinarily 
nonaggressive young men into warriors who can kill on command is first to 
change their external appearance. Most wars are about old men persuading 
young men to harm and kill other young men like themselves. For the young 
men, it becomes easier to do so if they first change their appearance, altering their 
usual external facade by putting on military uniforms or masks or painting their 
faces. With the anonymity thus provided in place, out go their usual internal 
compassion and concern for others. When the war is won, the culture then dic- 
tates that the warriors return to their peacetime status. This reverse transforma- 
tion is readily accomplished by making the warriors remove their uniforms, take 
off their masks, wash away the paint, and return to their former personae and 
peaceful demeanor. In a sense, it is as though they were in a macabre social ritual, 
unknowingly using the A-B-A paradigm of Fraser's Halloween experiment. 
Peaceful when identifiable, murderous when anonymous, peaceful again when 
returned to the identifiable condition. 

Certain environments convey a sense of transient anonymity in those who 
live or behave in their midst, without changing their physical appearance. To 
demonstrate the impact of the anonymity of place in facilitating urban vandal- 
ism, my research team did a simple field study. Recall from chapter 1 that we 
abandoned cars on the streets near the uptown campus of New York University 
in the Bronx, New York, and near Stanford University's campus in Palo Alto, 
California. We photographed and videotaped acts of vandalism against these 
cars, which were clearly abandoned (license plates removed, hoods raised). In the 
anonymity of the Bronx setting, several dozen passersby, on the street or in cars, 
stopped to vandalize the car within forty-eight hours. Most were reasonably well- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


dressed adults, who stripped the car of any valuable items or simply destroyed it — 
all in the daytime. By contrast, over a week's time, not a single passerby engaged 
in any act of vandalism against the car abandoned in Palo Alto. This demonstra- 
tion was the only empirical evidence cited in support of the "Broken Windows 
Theory" of urban crime. Environmental conditions contribute to making some 
members of society feel that they are anonymous, that no one in the dominant 
community knows who they are, that no one recognizes their individuality and 
thus their humanity. When that happens, we contribute to their transformation 
into potential vandals and assassins. (For full details of this research and Broken 
Windows Theory, see our Lucifer Effect website.) 

Deindividuation Transforms Our Apollonian Nature into a Dionysian Nature 

Let's assume that the "good" side of people is the rationality, order, coherence, 
and wisdom of Apollo, while the "bad" side is the chaos, disorganization, irra- 
tionality, and libidinous core of Dionysus. The Apollonian central trait is con- 
straint and the inhibition of desire; it is pitted against the Dionysian trait of 
uninhibited release and lust. People can become evil when they are enmeshed in 
situations where the cognitive controls that usually guide their behavior in so- 
cially desirable and personally acceptable ways are blocked, suspended, or dis- 
torted. The suspension of cognitive control has multiple consequences, among 
them the suspension of: conscience, self-awareness, sense of personal responsibil- 
ity, obligation, commitment, liability, morality, guilt, shame, fear, and analysis of 
one's actions in cost-benefit calculations. 

The two general strategies for accomplishing this transformation are: (a) re- 
ducing the cues of social accountability of the actor (no one knows who I am or 
cares to) and (b) reducing concern for self-evaluation by the actor. The first cuts 
out concern for social evaluation, for social approval, doing so by making the 
actor feel anonymous — the process of deindividuation. It is effective when one is 
functioning in an environment that conveys anonymity and diffuses personal 
responsibility. The second strategy stops self-monitoring and consistency moni- 
toring by relying on tactics that alter one's state of consciousness. This is accom- 
plished by means of taking alcohol or drugs, arousing strong emotions, engaging 
in hyperintense actions, getting into an expanded present-time orientation where 
there is no concern for past or future, and projecting responsibility outward onto 
others rather than inward toward oneself. 

Deindividuation creates a unique psychological state in which behavior 
comes under the control of immediate situational demands and biological, hor- 
monal urges. Action replaces thought, seeking immediate pleasure dominates de- 
laying gratification, and mindfully restrained decisions give way to mindless 
emotional responses. A state of arousal is often both a precursor to and a conse- 
quence of deindividuation. Its effects are amplified in novel or unstructured situa- 
tions where typical response habits and character traits are nullified. One's 


The Lucifer Effect 

vulnerability to social models and situational cues is heightened; therefore, it be- 
comes as easy to make love as to make war — it all depends on what the situation 
demands or elicits. In the extreme, there is no sense of right and wrong, no 
thoughts of culpability for illegal acts or Hell for immoral ones. " With inner re- 
straints suspended, behavior is totally under external situational control; outer 
dominates inner. What is possible and available dominates what is right and just. 
The moral compass of individuals and groups has then lost its polarity. 

The transition from Apollonian to Dionysian mentalities can be swift and un- 
expected, making good people do bad things, as they live temporarily in the ex- 
panded present moment without concerns for the future consequences of their 
actions. Usual constraints on cruelty and libidinal impulses melt away in the ex- 
cesses of deindividuation. ft is as if there were a short circuit in the brain, cutting 
off the frontal cortex's planning and decision-making functions, while the more 
primitive portions of the brain's limbic system, especially its emotion and aggres- 
sion center in the amygdala, take over. 

The Mardi Gras Effect: Communal Deindividuation as Ecstasy 

In ancient Greece, Dionysus was unique among the gods. He was seen as creating 
a new level of reality that challenged traditional assumptions and ways of living. 
He represented both a force for the liberation of the human spirit from its staid 
confinement in rational discourse and orderly planning, and a force of destruc- 
tion: lust without limits and personal pleasure without societal controls. Diony- 
sus was the god of drunkenness, the god of insanity, the god of sexual frenzy and 
battle lust. Dionysus' dominion includes all states of being that entail the loss of 
self-awareness and rationality, the suspension of linear time, and the abandon- 
ment of the self to those urges in human nature that overthrow codes of behavior 
and public responsibility. 

Mardi Gras has its origins as a pagan, pre-Christian ceremony now recog- 
nized by the Roman Catholic Church as occurring on the Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, or 
Shrove Tuesday) just before Ash Wednesday. That holy day marks the start of the 
Christian liturgical Season of Lent with its personal sacrifices and abstinence 
leading to Easter Sunday, forty-six days later. Mardi Gras celebrations begin on 
the Twelfth Night Feast of the Epiphany, when the three kings visited the new- 
born Jesus Christ. 

In practice, Mardi Gras celebrates the excess of libidinous pleasure seeking, of 
living for the moment, of "wine, women, and song." Cares and obligations are for- 
gotten while celebrants indulge their sensual nature in communal revelries. It is 
a Bacchanalian festivity that loosens behavior from its usual constraints and 
reason-based actions. However, there is always the preconscious awareness that 
this celebration is transitory, soon to be replaced by even greater than usual lim- 
its on personal pleasures and vices with the advent of Lent. "The Mardi Gras 
effect" involves temporarily giving up the traditional cognitive and moral con- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


straints on personal behavior when part of a group of like-minded revelers bent 
on having fun now without concern for subsequent consequences and liabilities. 
It is deindividualization in group action. 


Dehumanization is the central construct in our understanding of "man's inhu- 
manity to man." Dehumanization occurs whenever some human beings consider 
other human beings to be excluded from the moral order of being a human per- 
son. The objects of this psychological process lose their human status in the eyes 
of their dehumanizers. By identifying certain individuals or groups as being out- 
side the sphere of humanity, dehumanizing agents suspend the morality that 
might typically govern reasoned actions toward their fellows. 

Dehumanization is a central process in prejudice, racism, and discrimina- 
tion. Dehumanization stigmatizes others, attributing to them a "spoiled identity." 
For example, the sociologist Erving Goffman" described the process by which 
those who are disabled are socially discredited. They become not fully human and 
thus tainted. 

Under such conditions, it becomes possible for normal, morally upright, and 
even usually idealistic people to perform acts of destructive cruelty. Not respond- 
ing to the human qualities of other persons automatically facilitates inhumane 
actions. The golden rule then becomes truncated: "Do unto others as you would." 
It is easier to be callous or rude toward dehumanized "objects," to ignore their de- 
mands and pleas, to use them for your own purposes, even to destroy them if they 
are irritating. 12 

A Japanese general reported that it had been easy for his soldiers to brutally 
massacre Chinese civilians during Japan's pre-World War II invasion of China, 
"because we thought of them as things, not people like us." This was obviously so 
during the "Rape of Nanking" in 1937. Recall the description (in chapter 1) of 
the Tutsis by the woman who orchestrated many of the rapes of them — they were 
nothing more than "insects," "cockroaches." Similarly, the Nazi genocide of the 
Jews began by first creating through propaganda films and posters a national per- 
ception of these fellow human beings as inferior forms of animal life, as vermin, 
as voracious rats. The many lynchings of black people by mobs of whites in cities 
throughout the United States were likewise not considered crimes against hu- 
manity because of the stigmatization of them as only "niggers."" 

Behind the My Lai massacre of hundreds of innocent Vietnamese civilians by 
American soldiers was the dehumanizing "gooks" label that GIs had for all of 
those different-looking Asian people. 1 * Yesterday's "gooks" have become today's 
"hajjis" and "towel heads" in the Iraq War as a new corps of soldiers derogates 
these different-looking citizens and soldiers. "You just sort of try to block out the 
fact that they're human beings and see them as enemies," said Sergeant Mejia, 


The Lucifer Effect 

who refused to return to action in what he considered an abominable war. "You 
call them 'hajis', you know? You do all the things that make it easier to deal with 
killing them and mistreating them."" 

That such labels and their associated images can have powerful motivating 
effects was demonstrated in a fascinating controlled laboratory experiment (men- 
tioned in chapter 1, elaborated here). 

Experimental Dehumanization: Animalizing College Students 

My Stanford University colleague Albert Bandura and his students designed a 
powerful experiment that elegantly demonstrates the power of dehumanizing la- 
bels to foster harm against others." 

Seventy-two male volunteers from nearby junior colleges were divided into 
three-member "supervisory teams" whose task was to punish the inadequate 
decision making of other college students who were allegedly serving as a group 
of decision makers. The real subjects of the study were, of course, the students 
playing the role of supervisors. 

On each of twenty-five bargaining trials, the supervisors heard the decision- 
making team (reported to be in an adjacent room) supposedly formulating collec- 
tive decisions. The supervisors were given information they used to evaluate the 
adequacy of the decision on each trial. Whenever a bad decision was made, it was 
the job of this supervisory team to punish the error by administering a shock. 
They could choose the shock intensity from a mild level of 1 to a maximum level 
of 10 on any trial, which all the members of the decision-making team would re- 

The supervisors were told that participants from different social back- 
grounds were included in this project to increase its generality, but each group of 
decision makers was composed of people with similar attributes. This was done so 
that the positive or negative labels soon to be applied to them would hold for the 
entire group. 

The researchers varied two features of this basic situation: how the "vic- 
tims" were labeled and how personally responsible the supervisors were for the 
shocks they administered. The volunteers were randomly assigned to three condi- 
tions of labeling — dehumanized, humanized, or neutral — and two conditions of 
responsibility — individualized or diffused. 

Let's first consider how the labeling was imposed and its effects. Then we will 
see how the responsibility variations operated. After settling into the study, each 
group of participants believed they were overhearing an interchange over the in- 
tercom between the research assistant and the experimenter about the question- 
naires the decision makers had allegedly completed. The assistant remarked in a 
brief aside that the personal qualities exhibited by this group confirmed the opin- 
ion of the person by whom they had been recruited. In the dehumanized condition, 
the decision makers were characterized as "an animalistic, rotten bunch." By 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


contrast, in the humanized condition, they were characterized as a "perceptive, 
understanding, and otherwise humanized group." No evaluative references were 
made about those in the third, neutral condition. 

It should be made clear that the participants never interacted with their 
shock victims and therefore could not make such evaluations personally or eval- 
uate their adequacy. The labels were secondhand attributions made about other 
young college men, supposedly also volunteers functioning in an assigned role in 
this situation. So did the labels have any effect on how these college students pun- 
ished those they were allegedly supervising? (There were, in fact, no actual "oth- 
ers," only standardized tape feedback.) 

Indeed, the labels stuck and had a big impact on the extent to which the 
students punished their supervisees. Those labeled in the dehumanizing way, as 
"animals," were shocked most intensively, and their shock level increased linearly 
over ten trials. It also climbed higher and higher over trials, up to an average of 
7 out of the maximum of 10 for each group of participants. Those labeled "nice" 
were given the smallest amount of shock, while the unlabeled, neutral group fell 
in the middle of these two extremes. 

Further, during the first trial, there was no difference at all between the three 
experimental treatments in the level of shock administered — they all adminis- 
tered the same low level of shock. Had the study ended then, the conclusion 
would have been that the labels made no difference. However, with each succes- 
sive trial, as the errors of the decision makers allegedly multiplied, the shock lev- 
els of the three groups diverged. Those shocking the so-called animals shocked 
them more intensely over time, a result comparable to the escalating shock level 
of the deindividuated female college students in my earlier study. That rise in ag- 
gressive responding over time, with practice, or with experience illustrates a self- 
reinforcing effect. Perhaps the pleasure is not so much in inflicting pain as in the 
sense of power and control one feels in such a situation of dominance — giving 
others what they deserve to get. The researchers point to the disinhibiting power 
of labeling to divest other people of their human qualities. 

On the plus side in this study, that same arbitrary labeling also resulted in 
others being treated with greater respect if someone in authority had labeled 
them positively. Those perceived as "nice" were harmed the least. Thus, the power 
of humanization to counteract punitiveness is of equal theoretical and social sig- 
nificance as the phenomenon of dehumanization. There is an important message 
here about the power of words, labels, rhetoric, and stereotyped labeling, to be 
used for good or evil. We need to refashion the childhood rhyme "Sticks and 
stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me," to alter the last 
phrase to "but bad names can kill me, and good ones can comfort me." 

Finally, what about the variations in responsibility for the level of shock that 
was being administered? Significantly higher levels of shock were given when 
participants believed that the shock level was an average response of their team 


The Lucifer Effect 

rather than when it was the direct level of each individual's personal decision. As 
we have seen before, diffusion of responsibility, in any form it takes, lowers the in- 
hibition against harming others. As one might predict, the very highest levels of 
shock — and anticipated harm — were administered both when participants felt 
less personally responsible and when their victims were dehumanized. 

When Bandura's research team evaluated how the participants had justified 
their performance, they found that dehumanization promoted the use of self- 
absolving justifications, which in turn were associated with increasing punish- 
ment. These findings about how people disengage their usual self-sanctions 
against behaving in ways that are detrimental to others led Bandura to develop a 
conceptual model of "moral disengagement." 

Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement 

This model begins by assuming that most people adopt moral standards because 
of undergoing normal socialization processes during their upbringing. Those 
standards act as guides for prosocial behavior and deterrents of antisocial behav- 
ior as defined by their family and social community. Over time, these external 
moral standards imposed by parents, teachers, and other authorities become in- 
ternalized as codes of personal conduct. People develop personal controls over 
their thoughts and actions that become satisfying and provide a sense of self- 
worth. They learn to sanction themselves to prevent acting inhumanely and to 
foster humane actions. The self-regulatory mechanisms are not fixed and static in 
their relation to a person's moral standards. Rather, they are governed by a dy- 
namic process in which moral self-censure can be selectively activated to engage 
in acceptable conduct; or, at other times, moral self-censure can be disengaged 
from reprehensible conduct. Individuals and groups can maintain their sense 
of moral standards by simply disengaging their usual moral functioning at cer- 
tain times, in certain situations, for certain purposes, ft is as if they shift their 
morality into neutral gear and coast along without concern for hitting pedestri- 
ans until they later shift back to a higher gear, returning to higher moral ground. 

Bandura's model goes further in elucidating the specific psychological mech- 
anisms individuals generate to convert their harmful actions into morally accept- 
able ones as they selectively disengage the self-sanctions that regulate their 
behavior. Because this is such a fundamental human process, Bandura argues 
that it helps to explain not only political, military, and terrorist violence but also 
"everyday situations in which decent people routinely perform activities that fur- 
ther their interests but have injurious human effects."" 

It becomes possible for any of us to disengage morally from any sort of de- 
structive or evil conduct when we activate one or more of the following four types 
of cognitive mechanisms. 

First, we can redefine our harmful behavior as honorable. Creating moral 
justification for the action, by adopting moral imperatives that sanctify violence, 
does this. Creating advantageous comparisons that contrast our righteous behav- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


ior to the evil behavior of our enemies also does this. (We only torture them; they 
behead us.) Using euphemistic language that sanitizes the reality of our cruel ac- 
tions does this as well. ("Collateral damage" means that civilians have been 
bombed into dust; "friendly fire" means that a soldier has been murdered by the 
stupidity or intentional efforts of his buddies.) 

Second, we can minimize our sense of a direct link between our actions and 
its harmful outcomes by diffusing or displacing personal responsibility. We spare 
ourselves self-condemnation if we do not perceive ourselves as the agents of 
crimes against humanity. 

Third, we can change the way we think about the actual harm done by our 
actions. We can ignore, distort, minimize, or disbelieve any negative conse- 
quences of our conduct. 

Finally, we can reconstruct our perception of victims as deserving their pun- 
ishment, by blaming them for the consequences, and of course, by dehumanizing 
them, perceiving them to be beneath the righteous concerns we reserve for fellow 
human beings. 

Understanding Dehumanization Is Not Excusing It 

It is important once again to add here that such psychological analyses are never 
intended to excuse or make light of the immoral and illegal behaviors of perpetra- 
tors. By making explicit the mental mechanisms people use to disengage their 
moral standards from their conduct, we are in a better position to reverse the 
process, reaffirming the need for moral engagement as crucial for promoting em- 
pathic humaneness among people. 

However, before moving on it is important to make concrete the notion that 
people in positions of power and authority often reject attempts at causal situa- 
tional analyses in matters of great national concern. Instead, at least in one re- 
cent instance, they have endorsed simplistic dispositional views that would have 
made Inquisition judges smile. 

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a Stanford University professor of 
political science with a specialization in the Soviet military. Her training should 
have made her sensitive to systems-level analyses of complex political problems. 
However, not only was that perspective missing during an interview with Jim 
Lehrer on his NewsHour (July 28, 2005 ) , but instead she championed a dogmatic, 
simplistic dispositional view. In response to her interviewer's question about 
whether U.S. foreign policy is promoting rather than eliminating terrorism, Rice 
attacked any such thinking as "excuse mongering," as she makes it clear that ter- 
rorism is simply about "evil people": "When are we going to stop making excuses 
for the terrorists and saying that somebody is making them do it? No. these are 
simply evil people who want to kill. And they want to kill in the name of a per- 
verted ideology that really is not Islam, but they somehow want to claim that 
mantle to say that this is about some kind of grievance. This isn't about some kind 
of grievance. This is an effort to destroy, rather than to build. And until everybody 


The Lucifer Effect 

in the world calls it by name — the evil that it is — stops making excuses for them, 
then I think we're going to have a problem." 

I Am More Human than You: The Infrahumanization Bias 

Beyond perceiving and derogating others in the "out-group" with animallike 
qualities, people also deny them any "human essence." Out-group infrahumaniza- 
tion is a newly investigated phenomenon in which people tend to attribute 
uniquely human emotions and traits to their in-group and deny their existence in 
out-groups. It is a form of emotional prejudice." 

However, we go further in declaring that the essence of humanness resides 
primarily in ourselves, more so than in any others, even our in-group members. 
While we attribute infrahumaness to out-groups, as less than human, we are mo- 
tivated to see ourselves as more human than others. We deny uniquely human 
traits and even human nature to others, relative to our own egocentric standard. 
This self-humanization bias is the complement of the other-infrahumanization 
bias. These tendencies appear to be rather general and multifaceted. A team of 
Australian researchers concluded their investigation into the perception of hu- 
manness with a variant of the famous quote by the ancient Roman writer Ter- 
ence. He proudly proclaimed, "Nothing human is alien to me." Its ironic twist 
notes, "Nothing human may be alien to me, but something human is alien to 
you."" (It is unlikely that such an imperial "I" exists among members of collec- 
tivist cultures, but we await new research to inform us of the limits of such ego- 

Creating Dehumanized Enemies of the State 

Among the operational principles we must add to our arsenal of weapons that 
trigger evil acts by ordinarily good men and women are those developed by 
nation-states to incite their own citizens. We learn about some of these principles 
by considering how nations prepare their young men to engage in deadly wars 
while also preparing citizens to endorse engaging in wars of aggression. A special 
form of cognitive conditioning through propaganda helps accomplish this diffi- 
cult transformation. "Images of the enemy" are created by national media propa- 
ganda (in complicity with governments) to prepare the minds of soldiers and 
citizens to hate those who fit the new category "your enemy." Such mental condi- 
tioning is a soldier's most potent weapon. Without it, he might never put another 
young man in the crosshairs of his gun sight and fire to kill him. It induces a fear 
of vulnerability among citizens who can imagine what it would be like to be dom- 
inated by that enemy. 1(1 That fear becomes morphed into hatred and a willingness 
to take hostile action to reduce its threat. It extends its reaches into a willingness 
to send our children to die or be maimed in battle against that threatening enemy. 

In Faces of the Enemy, Sam Keen" shows how archetypes of the enemy are 
created by visual propaganda that most nations use against those judged to be the 
dangerous "them," "outsiders," "enemies." These visual images create a consen- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


sual societal paranoia that is focused on the enemy who would do harm to the 
women, children, homes, and God of that nation's way of life, destroying its fun- 
damental beliefs and values. Such propaganda has been widely practiced on a 
worldwide scale. Despite national differences in many dimensions, it is still possi- 
ble to categorize all such propaganda into a select set utilized by "homo hostilis. " In 
creating a new evil enemy in the minds of good members of righteous tribes, "the 
enemy" is: aggressor, faceless, rapist, godless, barbarian, greedy, criminal, tor- 
turer, murderer, an abstraction, or a dehumanized animal. Scary images reveal 
one's nation being consumed by the animals that are most universally feared: 
snakes, rats, spiders, insects, lizards, gigantic gorillas, octopi, or even "English 

A final point on the consequences of adopting a dehumanized conception of 
selected others is the unthinkable things that we are willing to do to them once 
they are officially declared different and undesirable. More than 65,000 Ameri- 
can citizens were sterilized against their will during an era (1920s-1940s) when 
eugenics advocates used scientific justifications to purify the human race by rid- 
ding it of all those with undesirable traits. We expect that view from Adolf Hitler 
but not from one of America's most revered jurists, Oliver Wendell Holmes. He 
ruled in a majority opinion (1927) that compulsory sterilization laws, far from 
being unconstitutional, were a social good: 

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate off- 
spring for crime, or let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent 
those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. Three genera- 
tions of imbeciles are enough." 

Please recall the research cited in chapter 12 on students at the University of 
Hawaii who were willing to endorse the "final solution" to eliminate the unfit, 
even their own family members if necessary. 

Both the United States and England have had a long history of involvement 
in the "war against the weak." They have had their fair share of vocal, influential 
proponents of eugenics advocating and scientifically justifying plans to rid their 
nation of the misfits while enhancing the privileged status of the most fit." 


The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to 
do nothing. 

— British statesman Edmund Burke 

[W]e must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to 
cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a 
participant in its evil. 

— Martin Luther King, Jr." 


The Lucifer Effect 

Our usual take on evil focuses on the violent, destructive actions of perpetrators, 
but the failure to act can also be a form of evil, when helping, dissent, disobedi- 
ence, or whistle-blowing are required. One of the most critical, least acknowl- 
edged contributors to evil goes beyond the protagonists of harm to the silent 
chorus who look but do not see, who hear but do not listen. Their silent presence 
at the scene of evil doings makes the hazy line between good and evil even fuzzier. 
We ask next: Why don't people help? Why don't people act when their aid is 
needed? Is their passivity a personal defect of callousness, of indifference? Alter- 
natively, are there identifiable social dynamics once again at play? 

The Kitty Genovese Case: Social Psychologists to the Rescue, Belatedly 

In a major urban center, such as New York City, London, Tokyo, or Mexico City, 
one is surrounded by literally tens of thousands of people. We walk beside them 
on the streets, sit near them in restaurants, movies, buses, and trains, wait in line 
with them — but remain unconnected, as if they do not really exist. For a young 
woman in Queens, they did not exist when she most needed them. 

For more than half an hour, 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in 
Queens [New York] watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three sepa- 
rate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice the sound of their voices and the sud- 
den glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. 
Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one per- 
son telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called the police 
after the woman was dead. [The New York Times, March 13,1964] 

A recent reanalysis of the details of this case casts doubt upon how many 
people actually saw the events unfolding and whether they really comprehended 
what was happening, given that many were elderly and had awoken suddenly in 
the middle of the night. Nevertheless, there seems to be no question that many 
residents of this well-kept, usually quiet, almost suburban neighborhood heard 
the chilling screams and did not help in any way. Kitty died alone on a staircase, 
where she could no longer elude her crazed murderer. 

Yet only a few months later, there was an even more vivid and chilling depic- 
tion of how alienated and passive bystanders can be. An eighteen-year-old secre- 
tary had been beaten, choked, stripped, and raped in her office. When she finally 
broke away from her assailant, naked and bleeding, she ran down the stairs of the 
building to the doorway screaming "Help me! Help me! He raped me!" A crowd of 
about forty persons gathered on the busy street and watched as the rapist dragged 
her back upstairs to continue his abuse. No one came to her aid! Only the chance 
arrival of passing police prevented her further abuse and possible murder (The 
New York Times, May 6, 1964). 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


Researching Bystander Intervention 

Social psychologists heeded the alarm by initiating a series of pioneering studies 
on bystander intervention. They countered the usual slew of dispositional analy- 
ses about what is wrong with the callous New York bystanders by trying to under- 
stand what in the situation freezes the prosocial actions of ordinary people. At 
the time, both Bibb Latane and John Darley" were professors at New York City 
universities — Columbia and NYU, respectively — so they were close to the heart of 
the action. Their field studies were done in a variety of New York City venues, 
such as on subways and street corners, and in laboratories. 

Their research generated a counterintuitive conclusion: the more people 
who witness an emergency, the less likely any of them will intervene to help. 
Being part of a passively observing group means that each individual assumes 
that others are available who could or will help, so there is less pressure to initiate 
action than there is when people are alone or with only one other observer. The 
mere presence of others diffuses the sense of personal responsibility of any indi- 
vidual to get involved. Personality tests of participants showed no significant rela- 
tionship between any particular personality characteristics and the speed or 
likelihood of intervening in staged emergencies. 2 " 

New Yorkers, like Londoners or others from big cities around the world, are 
likely to help and will intervene if they are directly asked or when they are alone 
or with a few others. The more people present who might help in an emergency 
situation, the more we assume that someone else will step forward, so we do not 
have to become energized to take any personal risk. Rather than callousness, fail- 
ure to intervene is not only because one fears for one's life in a violent scenario, 
but also because one denies the seriousness of the situation, fears doing the 
wrong thing and looking stupid or worries about the costs of getting involved in 
"someone else's business." There is also an emergent group norm of passive non- 

Want Help? Just Ask for It 

A former student of mine, Tom Moriarity, conducted a convincing demonstration 
that a simple situational feature can facilitate active bystander intervention 
among New Yorkers." In two scenarios, Tom arranged for a confederate to leave 
her purse on a table in a public, busy restaurant or her radio on a blanket at a 
crowded beach. Then another member of his research team would pretend to 
steal the purse or the radio as Tom recorded the actions of those near the scene of 
the simulated crime. Half the time virtually no one intervened and let the crimi- 
nal escape with the goods. However, the other half of the time virtually everyone 
stopped the criminal in his tracks and prevented the crime. What made the differ- 

In the first case, the woman merely asked the person nearby for the time, 


The Lucifer Effect 

making minimal social contact, before leaving the scene temporarily. However, in 
the second case, she made a simple request to a nearby person to keep an eye on 
her purse or her radio until she returned. That direct request created a social 
obligation to protect this stranger's property — an obligation that was honored 
fully. Want help? Ask for it. Chances are good that you will get it, even from al- 
legedly callous New Yorkers or other large-city folks. 

The implications of this research also highlight another theme we have been 
developing, that social situations are created by and can be modified by people. 
We are not robots acting on situational demand programs but can change any 
programming by our creative and constructive actions. The problem is that too 
often we accept others' definition of the situation and their norms, rather than 
being willing to take the risk of challenging the norm and opening new channels 
of behavioral options. One interesting consequence of the line of research on pas- 
sive and responsive bystanders has been the emergence of a relatively new area of 
social psychological research on helping and altruism (well summarized in a 
monograph by David Schroeder and his colleagues)." 

How Good Are Good Samaritans in a Hurry? 

A team of social psychologists staged a truly powerful demonstration that the fail- 
ure to help strangers in distress is more likely due to situational variables than to 
dispositional inadequacies." It is one of my favorite studies, so let's role-play with 
you once again as a participant. 

Imagine you are a student studying for the ministry at Princeton University's 
Theological Seminary. You are on your way to deliver a sermon on the Good 
Samaritan so that it can be videotaped for a psychology experiment on effective 
communication. You know the passage from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, 
quite well. It is about the only person who stopped to help a victim in distress on 
the side of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Gospel tells us that he will reap 
his just rewards in Heaven for having been the Good Samaritan on Earth — a bib- 
lical lesson for all of us to heed about the virtues of altruism. 

Imagine further that as you are heading from the Psychology Department to 
the videotaping center, you pass a stranger huddled up in an alley in dire distress, 
on the ground moaning, clearly in need of some aid. Now, can you imagine any 
conditions that would make you not stop to be that Good Samaritan, especially 
when you are mentally rehearsing the Good Samaritan parable at that very mo- 

Rewind to the psychology laboratory. You have been told that you are late for 
the appointed taping session and so should hurry along. Other theology students 
were randomly assigned to conditions in which they were told that they had a lit- 
tle time or a lot more time to get to the taping center. But why should time pres- 
sure on you (or the others) make a difference if you are a good person, a holy 
person, a person thinking about the virtue of intervening to help strangers in dis- 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


tress, as did that old-time Good Samaritan? I am willing to wager that you would 
like to believe it would not make a difference, that in that situation you would stop 
and help, no matter what the circumstances. And so would the other seminary 
students come to the aid of the victim in distress. 

Guess again: if you took the bet, you lost. The conclusion from the point of 
view of the victim is this: Don't be a victim in distress when people are late and in 
a hurry. Almost every one of those seminary students — fully 90 percent of 
them — passed up the immediately compelling chance to be a Good Samaritan be- 
cause they were in a hurry to give a sermon about it. They experienced the clash 
in task demands: to help science or to help a victim. Science won, and the victim 
was left to suffer. (As you would now expect, the victim was an acting confeder- 

The more time the seminarians believed they had, the more likely they were 
to stop and help. Thus, the situational variable of time pressure accounted for the 
major variations in who helped and who were passive bystanders. There was no 
need to resort to dispositional explanations about theology students being cal- 
lous, cynical, or indifferent, as the nonhelping New Yorkers were assumed to be in 
the case of poor Kitty Genovese. When the research was replicated, the same re- 
sult occurred, but when the seminarians were on their way to fulfill a less impor- 
tant task, the vast majority did stop to help. The lesson from this research is to not 
ask who does or does not help but rather what the social and psychological fea- 
tures of that situation were when trying to understand situations in which people 
fail to help those in distress.' 1 

The Institutionalized Evil of Inaction 

In situations where evil is being practiced, there are perpetrators, victims, and 
survivors. However, there are often observers of the ongoing activities or people 
who know what is going on and do not intervene to help or to challenge the evil 
and thereby enable evil to persist by their inaction. 

It is the good cops who never oppose the brutality of their buddies beating up 
minorities on the streets or in the back room of the station house. It was the good 
bishops and cardinals who covered over the sins of their predatory parish priests 
because of their overriding concern for the image of the Catholic Church. They 
knew what was wrong and did nothing to really confront that evil, thereby en- 
abling these pederasts to continue sinning for years on end (at the ultimate cost to 
the Church of billions in reparations and many disillusioned followers)." 

Similarly, it was the good workers at Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, 
and hosts of similarly corrupt corporations who looked the other way when the 
books were being cooked. Moreover, as I noted earlier, in the Stanford Prison Ex- 
periment it was the good guards who never intervened on behalf of the suffering 
prisoners to get the bad guards to lighten up, thereby implicitly condoning their 
continually escalating abuse. It was I, who saw these evils and limited only physi- 


The Lucifer Effect 

cal violence by the guards as my intervention while allowing psychological vio- 
lence to fill our dungeon prison. By trapping myself in the conflicting roles of re- 
searcher and prison superintendent, I was overwhelmed with their dual 
demands, which dimmed my focus on the suffering taking place before my eyes, I 
too was thus guilty of the evil of inaction. 

At the level of nation-states, this inaction, when action is required, allows 
mass murder and genocide to flourish, as it did in Bosnia and Rwanda and has 
been doing more recently in Darfur. Nations, like individuals, often don't want to 
get involved and also deny the seriousness of the threat and the need for immedi- 
ate action. They also are ready to believe the propaganda of the rulers over the 
pleas of the victims. In addition, there often are internal pressures on decision 
makers from those who "do business there" to wait it out. 

One of the saddest cases I know of the institutional evil of inaction occurred 
in 1939, when the U.S. government and its humanitarian president, Franklin D. 
Roosevelt, refused to allow a ship loaded with Jewish refugees to embark in any 
port. The SS St. Louis had come from Hamburg, Germany, to Cuba with 9 3 7 Jew- 
ish refugees escaping the Holocaust. The Cuban government reversed its earlier 
agreement to accept them. For twelve days these refugees and the ship's captain 
tried desperately to get permission from the U.S. government to enter a port in 
Miami, which was in clear view. Denied permission to enter this or any other port, 
the ship turned back across the Atlantic. Some refugees were accepted in Britain 
and other countries, but many finally died in Nazi concentration camps. Imagine 
being so close to freedom and then dying as a slave laborer. 

When incompetence is wedded to indifference and indecision, the outcome is 
the failure to act when action is essential for survival. The Katrina hurricane dis- 
aster in New Orleans (August 2005) is a classic case study in the total failure of 
multiple, interlocking systems to mobilize the enormous resources at their dis- 
posal to prevent the suffering and deaths of many citizens. Despite advance warn- 
ings of the impending disaster of the worst kind imaginable, city, state, and 
national authorities did not engage in the basic preparations needed for evacua- 
tion and for the safety of those who could not leave on their own. In addition to 
the municipal and state authority systems failing to communicate adequately 
(because of political differences at the top), the response from the Bush adminis- 
tration was nil, too late, and too little when it did come, Incompetent, inexperi- 
enced heads of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and of 
the Department of Homeland Security failed to engage the National Guard, Army 
reserve units, Red Cross, state police, or Air Force personnel to provide food, 
water, blankets, medicine, and more for the hundreds of thousands of survivors 
living in squalor for days and nights on end. A year later, much of the city is still 
in shambles, with entire neighborhoods decimated and deserted, thousands of 
homes marked for destruction, but little help has been forthcoming. Touring 
these desolate areas was heartbreaking for me. Critics contend that the systems' 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


failed response can be traced to class and racial issues, because most of the sur- 
vivors who could not evacuate were lower-class African Americans. This evil of 
inaction has been responsible for the deaths, despair, and disillusion of many cit- 
izens of New Orleans. Perhaps as many as half of those who did finally leave may 
never come home again." 

Et tu, Brute? 

Each of us has to wonder if, and hope that when the time comes, we will have the 
courage of our convictions to be a responsive bystander who sounds the alarm 
when our countrymen and -women are violating their oath of allegiance to 
country and to humanity. However, we have seen in these chapters that pressures 
to conform are enormous, to be a team player, not to rock the boat, and not to risk 
the sanctions against confronting any system. Those forces are often coupled 
with the top-down power of authority systems to convey expectations indirectly 
to employees and underlings that unethical and illegal behavior is appropriate 
under special circumstances — which they define. Many of the recently uncovered 
scandals at the highest levels of government, in the military, and in business in- 
volve the toxic mix of unverbalized authority expectations conveyed to subordi- 
nates who want to be accepted in the "Inner Ring," with the tacit approval of a 
horde of knowingly silent partners. 

"Toxic leaders cast their spell broadly. Most of us claim we abhor them. Yet we 
frequently follow — or at least tolerate — them, be they our employers, our CEOs, 
our senators, our clergy, or our teachers. When toxic leaders don't appear on 
their own, we often seek them out. On occasion, we even create them by pushing 
good leaders over the toxic line." In Jean Lipman-Blumen's penetrating analysis of 
the dynamic relationship between leaders and followers in The Allure of Toxic 
Leaders, we are reminded that recognizing the early signs of toxicity in our leaders 
can enable us to take preventive medicine, not passively imbibe their seductive 

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could 
have acted; the indifference of those who should have known 
better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; 
that has made it possible for evil to triumph. 

— Haile Selassie, former emperor of Ethiopia 


It is a truism in psychology that personality and situations interact to generate be- 
havior; people are always acting within various behavioral contexts. People are 
both products of their different environments and producers of the environments 
they encounter." Human beings are not passive objects simply buffeted about by 


The Lucifer Effect 

environmental contingencies. People usually select the settings they will enter or 
avoid and can change the setting by their presence and their actions, influence 
others in that social sphere, and transform environments in myriad ways. More 
often than not, we are active agents capable of influencing the course of events 
that our lives take and also of shaping our destinies." Moreover, human behavior 
and human societies are greatly affected by fundamental biological mechanisms 
as well as by cultural values and practices." 

The individual is the coin of the operating realm in virtually all of the major 
Western institutions of medicine, education, law, religion, and psychiatry. These 
institutions collectively help create the myth that individuals are always in con- 
trol of their behavior, act from free will and rational choice, and are thus person- 
ally responsible for any and all of their actions. Unless insane or of diminished 
capacity, individuals who do wrong should know that they are doing wrong and 
be punished accordingly. Situational factors are assumed to be little more than 
a set of minimally relevant extrinsic circumstances. In evaluating various 
contributors to any behavior of interest, the dispositionalists put the big chips on 
the Person and the chintzy chips on the Situation. That view seemingly honors 
the dignity of individuals, who should have the inner strength and will power to 
resist all temptations and situational inducements. Those of us from the other 
side of the conceptual tracks believe that such a perspective denies the reality of 
our human vulnerability. Recognizing such common frailties in the face of the 
kinds of situational forces we have reviewed in our journey thus far is the first step 
in shoring up resistance to such detrimental influences and in developing effec- 
tive strategies that reinforce the resilience of both people and communities. 

The situationist approach should encourage us all to share a profound sense of 
humility when we are trying to understand "unthinkable," "unimaginable," 
"senseless" acts of evil — violence, vandalism, suicidal terrorism, torture, or rape. 
Instead of immediately embracing the high moral ground that distances us good 
folks from those bad ones and gives short shrift to analyses of causal factors in that 
situation, the situational approach gives those "others" the benefit of "attributional 
charity." ft preaches the lesson that any deed, for good or evil, that any human 
being has ever done, you and I could also do — given the same situational forces. 

Our system of criminal legal justice over-relies on commonsense views held 
by the general public about what things cause people to commit crimes — usually 
only motivational and personality determinants, It is time for the legal justice sys- 
tem to take into account the substantial body of evidence from the behavioral sci- 
ences about the power of the social context in influencing behavior, criminal 
actions as well as moral ones. My colleagues Lee Ross and Donna Shestowsky 
have offered a penetrating analysis of the challenges that contemporary psy- 
chology poses to legal theory and practice. Their conclusion is that the legal sys- 
tem might adopt the model of medical science and practice by taking advantage 
of current research on what goes wrong, as well as right, in how the mind and 
body work: 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


The workings of the criminal justice system should not continue to be 
guided by illusions about cross-situational consistency in behavior, by er- 
roneous notions about the impact of dispositions versus situations in guid- 
ing behavior, or by failures to think through the logic of "person by 
situation" interactions, or even comforting but largely fanciful notions of 
free will, any more than it should be guided by once common notions 
about witchcraft or demonic possession." 

Situated Identities 

Our personal identities are socially situated. We are where we live, eat, work, and 
make love. It is possible to predict a wide range of your attitudes and behavior 
from knowing any combination of "status" factors — your ethnicity, social class, 
education, and religion and where you live — more accurately than by knowing 
your personality traits. 

Our sense of identity is in large measure conferred on us by others in the 
ways they treat or mistreat us, recognize or ignore us, praise us or punish us. 
Some people make us timid and shy; others elicit our sex appeal and dominance. 
In some groups we are made leaders, while in others we are reduced to being fol- 
lowers. We come to live up to or down to the expectations others have of us. The 
expectations of others often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Without realizing 
it, we often behave in ways that confirm the beliefs others have about us. Those 
subjective beliefs can create new realities for us. We often become who other peo- 
ple think we are, in their eyes and in our behavior." 

Can You Be Judged Sane in an Insane Place? 

Situations confer their social identities on us even when it should be obvious that 
it is not our true personal identity. Recall in the "mock ward" study at Elgin State 
Mental Hospital (chapter 12) that hospital staff mistreated the "mental patients" 
on their ward in a variety of ways; however, they were not actually patients but 
fellow staff members dressed as and playing the role of patients. Similarly, in the 
Stanford Prison Experiment, everyone knew that the guards were college kids pre- 
tending to be guards and that the prisoners were college kids pretending to be 
prisoners in that mock prison. Did it matter what their real identity was? Not 
really, as you saw; not after a day or so. They became their situated identities. In 
addition, I too became The Prison Superintendent in walk, talk, and distorted 
thought — when I was in that place. 

Some situations "essentialize" the roles people are assigned; each person 
must be what the role demands when he is on that stage set. Image, if you will, 
that you are a totally normal person who finds yourself hospitalized in a psychi- 
atric ward in a mental hospital. You are there because a hospital admissions offi- 
cer mistakenly labeled you as "schizophrenic." That diagnosis was based on the 
fact that you complained to him about "hearing voices," nothing more. You be- 
lieve that you do not deserve to be there and realize that the way to be released is 


The Lucifer Effect 

to act as normal and as pleasant as you can. Obviously the staff will soon realize 
there has been some mistake, you are not a mentally ill patient, and send you back 
home. Right? 

Don't count on this happening if you were in that setting. You might never be 
released, according to a fascinating study conducted by another of my Stanford 
colleagues, David Rosenhan, with the wonderful title "On Being Sane in Insane 

David and seven associates each went through the same scenario of making 
an appointment with a different mental hospital admissions officer and com- 
plaining of hearing voices or noises, "thuds," but giving no other unusual symp- 
toms. Each of them was admitted to their local mental hospital, and as soon as 
they were dressed in the patient's pajamas and scuffles, they behaved in a pleas- 
ant, apparently normal fashion at all times. The big question was how soon the 
staff would catch on, realize they were really sane, and bid them adieu. 

The simple answer in every one of the eight cases, in each of the eight men- 
tal wards, was Never! If you are in an Insane Place, you must be an Insane Person 
because Sane People are not Patients in Insane Asylums — so the situated-identity 
reasoning went. To be released took a lot of doing, after several weeks, and only 
with help from colleagues and lawyers. Finally, after the suitably sane Eight were 
checked out, written across each of their hospital charts was the same final 
evaluation: "Patient exhibits schizophrenia in remission." Meaning that, no mat- 
ter what, the staff still believed that their madness could erupt again some day — 
so don't throw away those hospital scuffles! 

Assessing Situational Power 

At a subjective level, we can say that you have to be embedded within a situation 
to appreciate its transformative impact on you and others who are similarly situ- 
ated. Looking in from the outside won't do. Abstract knowledge of the situation, 
even when detailed, does not capture the affective tone of the place, its nonverbal 
features, its emergent norms, or the ego involvement and arousal of being a par- 
ticipant. It is the difference between being an audience member at a game show 
and being the contestant onstage. It is one reason that experiential learning can 
have such potent effects, as in the classroom demonstrations by Ms. Elliott and 
Ron Jones we visited earlier. Do you recall that when forty psychiatrists were 
asked to predict the outcome of Milgram's experimental procedure, they vastly 
underestimated its powerful authority impact? They said that only 1 percent 
would go all the way up to the maximum shock level of 45 volts. You have seen 
just how far off they were. They failed to appreciate fully the impact of the social 
psychological setting in making ordinary people do what they would not do ordi- 

How important is situational power? A recent review of 100 years of social 
psychological research compiled the results of more than 2 5,000 studies includ- 
ing 8 million people. " This ambitious compilation used the statistical technique 

Investigating Social Dynamics 


of meta-analysis, which is a quantitative summary of findings across a variety of 
studies that reveals the size and consistency of such empirical results. Across 3 22 
separate meta-analyses, the overall result was that this large body of social psy- 
chological research generated substantial effect sizes — that the power of social 
situations is a reliable and robust effect. 

This data set was reanalyzed to focus only on research relevant for under- 
standing the social context variables and principles that are involved when ordi- 
nary people engage in torture. The Princeton University researcher Susan Fiske 
found 1,500 separate effect sizes that revealed the consistent and reliable impact 
of situational variables on behavior. She concluded, "Social psychological evi- 
dence emphasizes the power of the social context, in other words, the power of 
the interpersonal situation. Social psychology has accumulated a century of 
knowledge across a variety of studies about how people influence each other for 
good or ill." 4 ' 


Now the time has come to collect our analytical gear and move our journey to the 
far-off foreign land of Iraq to try to understand an extraordinary phenomenon of 
our times: the digitally documented abuses of Iraqis detained in the prison at Abu 
Ghraib. Revelations of these violations against humanity moved out from that se- 
cret dungeon in Tier 1A, that little shop of horrors, to reverberate around a 
shocked world. How could this happen? Who was responsible? Why had pho- 
tographs been taken that implicated the torturers in the act of committing their 
crimes? These and more questions filled the media for months on end. The presi- 
dent of the United States vowed "to get to the bottom of this. " A host of politicians 
and pundits knowingly proclaimed that it was all the work of a few "bad apples." 
The abusers were nothing more than a band of sadistic "rogue soldiers." 

Our plan is to reexamine what happened and how it happened. We are now 
adequately prepared to contrast this standard dispositional analysis of identifying 
the evil perpetrators, the "bad apples," in the otherwise presumably good barrel, 
with our search for situational determinants — the nature of that bad barrel. We 
will also review some of the conclusions from various independent investigations 
into these abuses that will take us beyond situational factors to implicate the 
System — military and political — in our explanatory mix. 


Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures: 
Understanding and Personalizing 
Its Horrors 

The landmark Stanford study provides a cautionary tale for all 
military detention operations.... Psychologists have attempted 
to understand how and why individuals and groups who usu- 
ally act humanely can sometimes act otherwise in certain cir- 

— Schlesinger Independent Panel report 1 

Washington, D.C., April 28, 2004. 1 was in the nation's capital representing the 
American Psychological Association at a meeting of the Council of Scientific So- 
ciety Presidents. Except when I am traveling, I rarely have time to watch TV news 
midweek. When I began flipping through channels in my hotel room, I came 
across something that froze me. Unbelievable images were flashing across the 
screen from CBS's program 60 Minutes II: Naked men were stacked high in a 
pyramid, and American soldiers stood grinning over their prisoner pile. A female 
soldier was leading a naked prisoner around by a dog leash tied around his neck. 
Other prisoners looked horrified as they seemed on the verge of being attacked by 
vicious-looking German shepherd dogs. On and on they went, like a pornographic 
slide show: naked prisoners were made to masturbate in front of a cigarette- 
smoking female soldier who stood giving a high-five approval salute; prisoners 
were made to simulate fellatio. 

It seemed inconceivable that American soldiers were tormenting, humiliat- 
ing, and torturing their captives by forcing homoerotic poses upon them. Yet here 
they were. Still other unbelievable images buzzed by: prisoners standing or bent 
over in stress positions with green hoods or women's pink panties covering their 
heads. Were these the fine young men and women sent overseas by the Pentagon 
on the glorious mission of bringing democracy and freedom to an Iraq recently 
liberated from the tyrant/torturer Saddam Hussein? 

It was amazing to see that in many of the images in this horror show the per- 
petrators themselves appeared along with their victims. It is one thing to do evil 
deeds, quite another to document one's culpability in graphic, enduring photos. 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


What had they been thinking as they made their "trophy photos"? Finally, the 
soon-to-be-iconic image of psychological torture appeared. A hooded prisoner 
was precariously perched on a cardboard box with his arms outstretched and 
electric wires attached to his fingers. He had been led to believe (by Sgt. Davis) that 
if his legs gave way and he fell off the perch, he would be electrocuted. His hood 
was lifted briefly to see the wires leading from the wall to his body. They were false 
electrodes that aimed at inducing anxiety, not physical pain. How long he shud- 
dered in absolute fear for his life we don't know, but we can readily imagine the 
trauma of his experience and empathize with this hooded man. 

At least a dozen images swept across the screen; I wanted to turn off the TV 
but could not look away because I was captured by the vivid power of the pictures 
and their violation of expectation. Before even beginning to entertain hypotheses 
about what could possibly have induced such behavior in these soldiers, I was as- 
sured, along with the rest of the nation, that the torture was the work of only a 
few "bad apples." General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
in a television interview declared his surprise at these allegations and astonish- 
ment at the images of criminal abuse. However, he said, he was certain that there 
was no evidence that the abuses were "systemic." To the contrary, he asserted 
that they were the isolated work of a handful of "rogue soldiers." According to 
this authoritative military spokesperson, fully 99.9 percent of American soldiers 
were performing in exemplary fashion overseas — meaning that there was no 


The Lucifer Effect 

need to be alarmed at the less than 1 percent of them who were defective soldiers 
carrying out these abominable abuses. 

"Frankly, I think all of us are disappointed by the actions of the few," said 
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, interviewed on the 60 Minutes II show. "Every 
day we love our soldiers, but frankly, some days we're not always proud of our sol- 
diers." It was comforting to know that only a few rotten soldiers, serving as prison 
guards in America's many military prisons, were engaged in such unthinkable 
acts of wanton torture.' 

Wait a minute. How could General Myers know that this was an isolated in- 
cident before having conducted a thorough investigation of his system of military 
prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba? The expose had just been revealed; there 
had not been sufficient time for anyone to have done a thorough investigation in 
order to make such an assertion. There was something troubling about this 
authoritative declaration to absolve the System and blame the few at the bottom 
of the barrel. His claim was reminiscent of what police chiefs tell the media when- 
ever police abuse of criminal suspects is revealed — blame the few rotten-apple- 
bad-cops — to deflect the focus away from the norms and usual practices in the 
back rooms of police stations or the police department itself. This rush to attribute 
a "bad-boy" dispositional judgment to the few offenders is all too common among 
the guardians of the System. In the same way, school principals and teachers use 
that device to blame particularly "disruptive" students instead of taking the time 
to evaluate the alienating effects of boring curricula or poor classroom practices 
of specific teachers that might provoke such disruptions. 

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denounced the acts as "terrible" and 
"inconsistent with the values of our nation." "The photographic depictions of 
U.S. military personnel that the public has seen have unquestionably offended 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


and outraged everyone in the Department of Defense," he said. "Any wrongdoers 
need to be punished, procedures evaluated, and problems corrected." Then he 
added a statement that obliquely took the heat off the military for their lack of ap- 
propriate training and preparation of Army Reserve Military Police for such a dif- 
ficult mission: "[I]f someone doesn't know that doing what is shown in those 
photos is wrong, cruel, brutal, indecent, and against American values, 1 am at a 
loss as to what kind of training could be provided to teach them." 4 However, 
Rumsfeld was also quick to redefine the nature of these acts as "abuse" and not 
"torture." He said, "What has been charged so far is abuse, which I believe techni- 
cally is different from torture. I'm not going to address the 'torture' word.'" Time 
out for another pause in this narrative: To what technicality is Rumsfeld refer- 

As media carried these images worldwide on prime-time TV, on the front 
pages of newspapers, in magazines, and on websites for days on end, President 
Bush launched an immediate and unprecedented damage control program to 
protect the reputation of his military and his administration, especially his secre- 
tary of defense. He dutifully declared that he would form independent investiga- 
tions that would get to the "bottom of this." I wondered if the president would 
also order investigations that might get to the "top" of this scandal so that we 
could see the full picture and not just its frame? ft would seem so, given that his 
deputy director for coalition operations in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, 
publicly declared, "I'd like to sit here and say that these were the only prisoner 
abuse cases that we're aware of, but we know that there have been some other 
ones since we've been here in Iraq." (Doesn't this contradict General Myers's as- 
sertion that it was an isolated incident and not systemic?) 

In fact, there have been so many cases of abuse, torture, and homicide un- 
covered since the Abu Ghraib scandal blew the lid off that by April 2006 more 
than four hundred separate military investigations had been launched into such 
allegations, according to Lieutenant Colonel John Skinner, U.S. Department of 

Two other public reactions to the abuse photos are worthy of our notice, one 
by a famous media personality, another expressing the "outrage" of a United 
States congressman. To the archconservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, the 
photos, such as the one of a pyramid of naked prisoners, seemed little more than 
a college prank: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones [a 
Yale University secret society] initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives 
over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to 
really hammer them [the accused soldiers] because they had a good time. You 
know these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a 
good time, these people. You ever heard of emotional release? You heard of need 
to blow some steam off?'" 

Torture as emotional release? Catharsis for the stressed soldiers? Having a 
good time by just blowing off a little steam? Those were the justifications by this 


The Lucifer Effect 

influential celebrity for terrible acts of torture. One slight difference between the 
fraternity "hell night" scene and the Abu Ghraib torture scene is, of course, that 
fraternity pledges have the choice of whether to endure hazing as a testament of 
their commitment to joining a college society. They are not forcibly subjected, 
without their prior consent, to such humiliation and torment by a hostile, enemy 
occupation force. 

Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma), a member of the Senate 
Armed Services Committee, before which Secretary Rumsfeld had testified, was 
outraged. However, he avowed that he was "more outraged by the outrage" 
caused by the photographs than by what they depicted. He blamed the victims for 
deserving their abuse and the media for publicizing the images. "These prisoners, 
you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in Cellblock 1-A or 
1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. 
Many of them probably have American blood on their hands, and here we're so 
concerned about the treatment of those individuals." He continued his attack by 
arguing that the media were provoking further violence against Americans 
around the world by publicizing the outrage caused by showing the photos." 

The Pentagon used similar reasoning in its effort to block the release of these 
images. However, Major General Donald Ryder's internal Army report challenged 
the view that these prisoners were violent, noting that some Iraqis were held for 
long periods simply because they had expressed "displeasure or ill will" toward 
U.S. forces. Other accounts make it evident that many of the inmates were "inno- 
cent civilians" (according to the prison superintendent, Brigadier General Janis 
Karpinski). They had been picked up in military sweeps of towns where insurgent 
activity had occurred. In these sweeps, all the male family members, including 
young boys, were incarcerated in the nearest military prison and then often taken 
to Abu Ghraib for questioning. 

Although I have seen many horrifying images of extreme abuse in conduct- 
ing research on torture in Brazil and in preparing lectures on torture, something 
at once struck me as being different and yet familiar about the images that were 
emerging from the exotically named Abu Ghraib Prison. The difference had to do 
with the playfulness and shamelessness displayed by the perpetrators. It was just 
"fun and games," according to the seemingly shameless Private Lynndie England, 
whose smiling face belied the chaos going on around her. Nevertheless, a sense of 
the familiar was haunting me. With a shock of recognition, I realized that watch- 
ing some of these images made me relive the worst scenes from the Stanford 
Prison Experiment. There were the bags over prisoners' heads; the nakedness; the 
sexually humiliating games that entailed camels humping or men leapfrogging 
over each other with their genitals exposed. These comparable abuses had been 
imposed by college student guards on their college student prisoners. In addition, 
just as in our study, the worst abuses had occurred during the night shift! More- 
over, in both cases the prisoners were being held in pretrial detention. 

It was as though the worst-case scenario of our prison experiment had been 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


carried out over months under horrendous conditions, instead of in our brief, rel- 
atively benign simulated prison, I had seen what could happen to good boys when 
they were immersed in a situation that granted them virtually absolute power in 
dealing with their charges. In our study, the guards had had no prior training for 
their roles and been given only minimal staff supervision to curtail their psycho- 
logical abuse of prisoners, Imagining what could happen when all the constraints 
that operated in our experimental setting were removed, I knew that in the Abu 
Ghraib Prison, powerful situational forces must have been in play, and even more 
dominating systemic forces had to have been at work. How could I ever know the 
truth about the behavioral context in that far-off situation or uncover any truth 
about the System that had created and maintained it? ft was apparent to me that 
the System was now struggling mightily to conceal its own complicity in torture. 


The design of the Stanford Prison Experiment made it evident that initially our 
guards were "good apples," some of whom became soured over time by powerful 
situational forces. In addition, I later realized that it was I, along with my research 
team, who was responsible for the System that made that situation work so effec- 
tively and so destructively. We failed to provide adequate top-down constraints to 
prevent prisoner abuse, and we set an agenda and procedures that encouraged a 
process of dehumanization and deindividuation that stimulated guards to act in 
creatively evil ways. Further, we could harness the System's power to terminate 
the experiment when it began to spin out of control and when a whistle-blower 
forced recognition of my personal responsibility for the abuses. 

In contrast, in trying to understand the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib, 
we are starting at the end of the process, with documented evil deeds. Therefore, 
we have to do a reverse analysis. We have to determine what these guards might 
have been like as people before they were assigned to guard the prisoners on those 
tiers of that Iraqi prison. Can we establish what pathologies, if any, the guards 
might have brought into the prison in order to separate their dispositional tenden- 
cies from what that particular situation might have brought out in them? Next, 
can we uncover what the behavioral context into which they were thrust was 
like? What was the social reality for the guards in that particular setting at that 
particular time? 

Finally, we must discover something about the power structure that is re- 
sponsible for creating and sustaining the working and living conditions of all the 
inhabitants of that dungeon — Iraqi prisoners and American guards alike. What 
justification can the System provide for using this particular prison to house "de- 
tainees" indefinitely without legal recourse and to interrogate them using "coer- 
cive tactics"? At what levels was the decision made to suspend the safeguards of 
the Geneva Conventions and the military's own rules of conduct regarding prison- 
ers, namely, banning any actions that are cruel, inhuman, and degrading in the 


The Lucifer Effect 

treatment of them? Those regulations provide the most basic standards of con- 
duct in the treatment of prisoners in any democracy whether in times of war or 
peace. Nations put them into practice not so much out of charitable goodwill but 
to ensure the decent treatment of their own soldiers should they be captured as 
prisoners of war. 

Not trained as an investigative reporter and not having the means to travel to 
Abu Ghraib or to interview the key participants in these abuses, I had little reason 
to expect that I would be able to get to the top or to the bottom of this intriguing 
psychological phenomenon. It would be a shame not to be able to bring to bear an 
understanding of this seemingly senseless violence based on my unique, "insider" 
knowledge from having been the superintendent of the Stanford prison. What I 
learned from the SPE paradigm about investigating institutional abuses is the 
need to evaluate various factors (dispositional, situational, and systemic) that 
lead to the behavioral outcome we want to understand. I was also curious as to 
who it was who had shined the spotlight on the abuses going on in that prison 

Joe Darby, Heroic Whistle-Blower, Ordinary Guy 

The young soldier who blew the whistle on that "little shop of horrors" and ex- 
posed its dark deeds to public scrutiny was a twenty-four-year-old Army Reservist, 
Joe Darby. That young man is a hero because he forced the military officials to ac- 
knowledge the existence of such abusive practices and act to rein them in in all 
their prisons. Darby was in the same 372nd Military Police Company as the Mili- 
tary Police on night shift duty in the prison, but he was not working on that 

One day, his buddy Corporal Charles Graner gave Darby a CD filled with hun- 
dreds of digital images and video clips that he and the other guards had taken. A 
few of the images had already made the rounds in their unit; some were even dis- 
played on computer screen savers. Darby was at first amused looking at the pic- 
tures, thinking it was "pretty funny" to see a pile of naked Iraqis in a pyramid 
showing their asses. But the more he looked, the more distressed he felt at what he 
saw. "It didn't sit right with me," he said. He felt it was wrong for Americans to be 
doing such terrible things to other people even if they were foreigners imprisoned 
in a war zone. "I couldn't stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a 
decision to turn the pictures in," Darby reported. He agonized over that decision, 
torn between loyalty to his friends and the urging of his moral conscience. Darby 
had known Lynndie England since basic training. Nevertheless, he said, what he 
saw "violated everything I personally believed, and all I'd been taught about the 
rules of law." 

So on that day in January 2 04, Joe Darby made a giant leap for moral 
mankind by first handing over a copy of the CD, with an anonymous note in a 
manila envelope, to an agent at the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). He later 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


confided to Special Agent Tyler Pieron (U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Com- 
mand at Abu Ghraib Prison) that he was the one who put the CD in the envelope 
and was willing to talk to CID more fully. Darby wanted to remain anonymous as 
long as he continued working at Abu Ghraib, for fear of retaliation for having rat- 
ted on his buddies in this way.' 

It took enormous personal courage for Darby to blow the whistle so loudly, 
knowing that it would surely make trouble for his buddies in the 372nd who ap- 
peared on the CD. Nevertheless, when others were doing the wrong thing, Darby 
did the right thing. 

We must also take into account that his military status was at the bottom 
rung, a specialist in the Army Reserve. He was openly challenging what was 
going on in a military-run prison — a prison, as I later discovered, a section of 
which was a special interrogation center created by the secretary of defense him- 
self to elicit "actionable intelligence from terrorists and insurgents." It took forti- 
tude for Darby to challenge the system. 10 

Apple Blossom Time in the Nation's Capital 

Chance suddenly sent good fortune my way. A former Stanford student, working 
at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., recognized the parallels between 
the photos of Abu Ghraib and those I had shown in my course lectures about the 
Stanford Prison Experiment. He tracked me down in my D.C. hotel to do an NPR 
interview shortly after the story surfaced. The main point of my interview was to 
challenge the administration's "bad apple" excuse with an alternative "bad bar- 
rel" metaphor that 1 derived from the similarity between the Abu Ghraib situation 
and the Stanford Prison Experiment. Many other TV, radio, and newspaper inter- 
views soon fed off this first NPR interview to provide neat sound bites about as- 
sorted Apples and sordid Barrels. My commentary was sought by the media 
because it could be dramatized by vivid video and still footage from our experi- 
mental prison. 

This national publicity, in turn, reminded Gary Myers, counsel for one of the 
MP guards, that my research was relevant in highlighting the external determi- 
nants of his client's alleged abusive behavior. Myers invited me to be an expert 
witness for Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick II, the military policeman who 
was in charge of the night shift on Tiers 1A and IB. I agreed, in part so that I 
could have access to all the information I needed to fully understand the role of 
the triadic elements in the attributional analysis of this alien behavior: the Per- 
son, the Situation, and the System that had put this person in that place to com- 
mit such crimes. 

With that background information, I hoped to more fully appreciate the 
dynamic transactions that had fueled these aberrations. In the process, I agreed 
to offer appropriate assistance to Myers's client. However, I made it clear that my 
sympathies were more with Joe Darby, who had been brave enough to expose the 


The Lucifer Effect 

abuses, than with anyone involved in perpetrating them." Under these condi- 
tions, I then joined Staff Sergeant Frederick's defense team and embarked on a 
journey into this new heart of darkness. 

Let's begin our analysis by getting a better sense of what that place was like, 
that Abu Ghraib Prison — geographically, historically, politically, and in its recent 
operational structure and function. Then we can move on to examine the soldiers 
and prisoners in their behavioral context. 


Twenty miles (32 kilometers) west of Iraq's capital city, Baghdad, and a few miles 
from Fallujah lies the Iraqi city of Abu Ghraib (or Abu Ghurayb), where the 
prison is located. It lies within the Sunni triangle, the center of violent insurgency 
against the American occupation. In the past, the prison was designated by the 
Western media "Saddam's Torture Central" because it was the place where, dur- 
ing the reign of the Ba'athist government, Saddam Hussein arranged for the tor- 
ture and murder of "dissidents" in twice-weekly public executions. There are 
allegations that some of these political and criminal prisoners were used in Nazi- 
like experiments as part of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons program. 

At any one time, as many as fifty thousand people were held in the sprawling 
prison complex, whose name could translate into "House of Strange Fathers" or 
"Father of the Strange." It had always had an unsavory reputation because it had 
served as an insane asylum for severely disturbed inmates in the pre-Thorazine 
era. Built by British contractors in 1 9 6 , it covered 2 8 acres (1.15 square kilo- 
meters) and had a total of twenty-four guard towers encircling its perimeter. It 
was a sprawling small city, partitioned into five walled compounds each meant to 
hold particular kinds of prisoners. In the center of its open yard stood a huge 
400-foot tower. Unlike most American prisons, which are built in remote rural 
areas, Abu Ghraib is located within sight of large apartment houses and offices 
(perhaps built after 1960). Inside, its cells were jammed with as many as forty 
people confined in a 12-foot-square (4-meter-square) space and living under vile 

Colonel Bernard Flynn, Commander, Abu Ghraib Prison, described just how 
close the prison was to those attacking it: "It's a high-visibility target because 
we're in a bad neighborhood. All of Iraq is a bad neighborhood. . . . There's one 
tower where it's built so close to the neighborhood that we can look into the bed- 
rooms, you know, right there on the porches. There were snipers on those roofs 
and on those porches firing at the soldiiers who were up there on the towers. So 
we're constantly on guard and trying to defend this and trying to keep the insur- 
gents away from coming inside."" 

After the U.S. forces overthrew Saddam's government in March 2003, the 
name of the prison was changed from Abu Ghraib — to dissociate it from its unsa- 
vory past — to the Baghdad Central Confinement Facility (BCCF) — initials seen in 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


many of the investigative reports. When Saddam's regime collapsed, all prisoners, 
including many criminals, were released, and the prison was looted; whatever 
could be removed was stolen — doors, windows, bricks: you name it and someone 
stole it. Incidentally — and not reported in the media — the Abu Ghraib city zoo 
was also opened and all the wild animals released. For a time, lions and tigers 
roamed the streets until they were captured or killed. A former CIA bureau chief, 
Bob Baer, described the scene he witnessed at this notorious prison: "I visited Abu 
Ghraib a couple of days after it was liberated, ft was the most awful sight I've ever 
seen. I said, 'If there's ever a reason to get rid of Saddam Hussein, it's because of 
Abu Ghraib.' " His grim account adds, "There were bodies that were eaten by 
dogs, torture. You know, electrodes coming out of the walls, ft was an awful 

Although senior U.K. officials recommended that the prison be demolished, 
U.S. authorities decided to rebuild the prison as quickly as possible so that it could 
be used to detain all those who were suspected of vaguely defined "crimes against 
the Coalition," suspected insurgency leaders, and assorted criminals, In charge 
of this motley group of detainees were Iraqi guards of dubious character. Many of 
those held in security were blameless assorted Iraqi civilians who had been picked 
up in random military sweeps or at highway checkpoints for "suspicious activity." 
They included whole families — men, women, and adolescents — to be interrogated 
for information they might have about the unanticipated growing insurgency 
against the Coalition. Once arrested and found innocent after interrogation, they 
were not released because the military feared that they would then join the insur- 
gency, or because nobody wanted to take the reponsibility for making such deci- 

The Towering Target of Mortar Attacks 

The imposing four-hundred-foot tower in the center of the prison soon became 
the sighting focus of almost nightly mortar attacks that were launched from the 
tops of nearby buildings. In August 2003, a mortar attack killed eleven soldiers 
who were sleeping in tents outside in the yard on the "soft site." In another attack, 
an explosive ripped through a tent filled with soldiers, among them Colonel 
Thomas Pappas, the head of one of the military intelligence brigades stationed at 
the prison. Although Pappas was unharmed, the young soldier who was his driver 
was shredded and died, along with other soldiers. Pappas was so affected by this 
sudden horror that he never again took off his flak jacket. It was reported to me 
that he always wore his jacket and hard helmet even while showering. He was 
later declared "not combat fit" and relieved of his duties. His deteriorating mental 
condition did not permit him to provide the vitally necessary supervision of his 
soldiers working in the prison. After the terrifying mortar attack, Pappas housed 
most of his soldiers inside the prison walls on the "hard site," which meant that 
they were usually sleeping in small prison cells, just like those of the prisoners. 
Stories of their comrades' deaths and the constant continuing sniper. 


The Lucifer Effect 

grenade, and mortar attacks created an ambient sense of fear among everyone 
assigned to the prison, which came under hostile attack as many as twenty times 
a week. Both American soldiers and Iraqi prisoners and detainees were killed by 
this hostile fire. Over time, the attacks destroyed some of the prison complex and 
left buildings burned out and debris everywhere in sight. 

The mortar shelling was so frequent that it became part of the surreal sur- 
rounding of the Abu Ghraib madness. Joe Darby recalls discussions with buddies 
as they tried to figure out the size and location of the mortar after hearing the 
boom of its launch; whether it was 60 or 80 mm. or even big enough to be a 1 20 
mm. explosion. However, that psychic numbness in the face of death did not last 
forever. Darby confesses that "a few days before my unit left Abu Ghraib, all of a 
sudden people started worrying about mortar attacks for the first time. It was 
weird. They'd be huddling against the wall together. I found myself crouched in a 
corner, praying. The numbness was wearing off. That's one of the things you have 
to keep in mind when you look at the pictures. We all got numb in different ways." 

According to one high-ranking informant who worked there for several 
years, the prison remained a very dangerous place in which to work or be housed. 
In 2 006, the military command finally decided to abandon it, but a bit too late to 
undo the damage caused by its earlier decision to resurrect it.* 

Compounding the woes of the soldiers, the war-torn Abu Ghraib Prison had 
no sewage system — only holes in the ground and porta-potties. Even so, there 
were not enough outside porta-potties to accommodate all the prisoners and sol- 
diers. Because they were not regularly emptied, they overflowed, and in the ex- 
treme summer temperatures, the stench was horrible for everyone all the time. 
There was also no adequate shower system; water was rationed; there was no 
soap; electricity went down regularly because there were no reliably operating 
generators. The prisoners stank, as did the whole facility that enclosed them. 
Under the heavy rains of summer, when temperatures soared well above 110 de- 
grees F. (45 C), the prison became a baking oven, or sauna. During a windstorm, 
fine dust participles got into everyone's lungs, causing congestion and viral infec- 

After it was decided to demolish the tall tower in order to eliminate it as a 
sighting target for insurgents, mortar attacks were on target less frequently, but 
that huge demolition added to the permanent debris in and degradation of the 
prison site. 

Nor did the quality of the food make up for the other deficiencies in the ac- 
commodations. Even though this large facility had recently been renovated by the 
U.S. Army, there were no mess halls. For more than two years after the occupation 
of Abu Ghraib. soldiers assigned to duty there were obliged to eat T-Rations and 

*Abu Ghraib Prison was officially closed as of August 15, 2006, and all remaining prisoners 
shipped to Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad airport. 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) out of containers. A mess hall was finally constructed 
in December 200 3. In summary. I cannot express the scene better than did a war- 
rant officer in charge of military investigations there who told me just how terri- 
ble it was to work in such a place "that for a long time resembled hell on earth.'" 4 

Eighty Acres of Hell 

American history buffs will remind us at this point that an even more hellish 
prison was created and maintained by the U.S. military during and after the Civil 
War. Camp Douglas was the prison a few miles outside of Chicago where thou- 
sands of captured Confederate prisoners were sent for safekeeping, ft was poorly 
conceived on reclaimed swampland, with inadequate resources, indecisive and 
lax leadership, no clear guidelines for dealing with POWs, and great hostility 
against these Confederate "traitors" on the part of local civilians and the small 
battalion of guards who supervised as many as five thousands prisoners. Camp 
Douglas became known as "eighty acres of Hell" because thousands of prisoners 
died there, as slave laborers, from starvation, brutal beatings, torture, willful mis- 
treatment, and a host of contagious diseases and viral disorders. The equivalent 
Hell on Earth in the South for captured Union soldiers was the better-known An- 
dersonville Prison." 

The New Commander Arrives On-site, But Sight Unseen 

In June 2003 a new officer was put in charge of the Iraqi prison disaster. Army 
Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was made commander of the 800th 
Military Police Brigade, which operated Abu Ghraib Prison and was in charge of 
all other military prisons in Iraq. The appointment was strange for two reasons: 
Karpinsky was the only female commander in the war zone, and she had ab- 
solutely no experience in running any kind of prison system. Now she was sup- 
posed to command three large jails, seventeen prisons throughout Iraq, eight 
battalions of soldiers, hundreds of Iraqi guards, and thirty-four hundred inexpe- 
rienced Army Reservists, as well as the special Interrogation Center in Tier 1 A. It 
was an overwhelming demand to be put on the shoulders of such an inexperi- 
enced Army Reserve officer. 

According to several sources, Karpinski soon abandoned her post at Abu 
Ghraib because of its dangers and awful living conditions and retreated to the 
safety and security of Camp Victory, near the Baghdad airport. Because Karpinski 
was off-site much of the time, traveling often to Kuwait, there was no top-down 
authoritative supervision of the facility on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, she 
claims that those higher up in the chain of command told her that Tier 1A was a 
"special site" and was not under her direct supervision — so she never visited it. 

Having a woman who was only nominally in charge also encouraged sexist 
attitudes among the soldiers that led to a breakdown in ordinary military disci- 
pline and order. "General Karpinski's subordinates at Abu Ghraib at times disre- 
garded her commands and didn't enforce codes on wearing uniforms and 


The Lucifer Effect 

saluting superiors, which added to the lax standards that prevailed at the prison," 
said one member of the brigade. The soldier, who spoke on the condition of 
anonymity, also said that commanders in the field routinely ignored General 
Karpinski's orders, saying that they didn't have to listen to her because she was a 
woman. " " 

One task she did perform, after a fashion, consisted of weekly "scrubs," 
where she made decisions about which prisoners should be released either be- 
cause they were not dangerous or because they probably had no useful informa- 
tion and were neither insurgents nor criminals. However, I was told that 
Karpinski played it safe by releasing relatively few detainees, while many new 
prisoners were being brought in daily; therefore, the prison population continued 
to swell. To make matters worse, though few were leaving, there was a constant 
influx of new prisoners from other prisons, as, for example, when Camp Bucca 
was overcrowded. 

As the prison population swelled to more than ten thousand during the first 
six months of Karpinski's tenure, there were, among those imprisoned, thirty ju- 
veniles, ages ten to seventeen. For these children not only were there no educa- 
tional programs, but there were also no separate facilities. "It was heartbreaking 
to see the conditions under which these young children were living for months on 
end," said one observer. In addition, nothing was done to provide separate 
arrangements for prisoners who were mentally ill or were suffering from a variety 
of contagious diseases, like TB . 

It is curious, then, that given the terrible conditions at Abu Ghraib, General 
Karpinski would give a thumbs-up report in an interview with the St. Petersburg 
Times in December 2003 . She said that for many of the Iraqis imprisoned at Abu 
Ghraib, "living conditions now are better in prison than living at home." She 
added. 'At one point we were concerned that they wouldn't want to leave." How- 
ever, at that very moment, as General Karpinski was giving such a cheery pre- 
Christmas interview, Major General Antonio Taguba was conducting an 
investigation of reports of numerous incidents of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton 
criminal abuses" perpetrated by her Army Reserve soldiers in the 372nd Military 
Police Company, from the night shift on Tier 1 A. 

General Karpinski was later admonished, suspended from duty, officially rep- 
rimanded, and removed from this command. She was also demoted to the rank of 
colonel and retired from the service. She was the first officer to be found blame- 
worthy in the investigation of prisoner abuses, for her sins of omission and 
ignorance — not for anything she did, but for what she did not do. 

In her autobiography, One Woman's Army, Karpinski tells her side of the 
story." She recounts the visit of an Army team from Guantanamo, headed by 
Major General Geoffrey Miller, who told her, "We're going to change the nature of 
the interrogation at Abu Ghraib." That meant "taking off the kid gloves." to stop 
being so soft on these suspected insurgents, and to start using tactics that would 
get "actionable intelligence" needed in the war against terrorists and insurgents. 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


Miller also insisted that the official name of the prison cease to be the Baghdad 
Central Confinement Facility (BCCF) and return to its original designation, which 
was still feared among the Iraqi population: Abu Ghraib Prison. 

She also notes that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of 
U.S. forces in Iraq, repeated the theme that General Miller had laid down about 
prisoners and detainees being nothing more than "like dogs," and the need to get 
tougher in dealing with them. In Karpinski's view, her superior officers, Generals 
Miller and Sanchez, set a new agenda for dehumanization and torture at Abu 
Ghraib. 1 " 


I first met Chip Frederick on September 30, 2004, when his legal counsel, Gary 
Myers, arranged for me to spend a day with him and his wife, Martha, in San Fran- 
cisco. While we engaged in an in-depth, four-hour interview, Martha did a bit of 
sightseeing, after which we had lunch at my home in Russian Hill. Since that time 
I have had an active correspondence with Chip Frederick, and I have been in phone 
and e-mail contact with Martha and with Chip's older sister, Mimi Frederick. 

After having examined all of his records and all available reports about him, 
I arranged to have a military clinical psychologist (Dr. Alvin Jones) conduct a full 
psychological assessment of Frederick in September 2 04." I reviewed those 
data as well as the independent blind evaluation of the MMPI testing that had 
been done by an assessment expert. In addition, I administered a measure of psy- 
chological burnout at the time of our interview, and an expert on job stress inde- 
pendently evaluated its results. Let's start with some general background, add 
some personal input from family and some of Frederick's recent self-evaluations, 
and then review the formal psychological assessments. 

Chip was thirty-seven years old at that time, the son of a seventy-seven-year-old 
West Virginia coal miner father and a seventy-three-year-old homemaker mother. 
He grew up in the small town of Mt. Lake Park, Maryland. He describes his 
mother as very supportive and caring and his father as very good to him. One of 
his favorite memories is working on vehicles in the garage alongside his father. His 
older sister, Mimi, forty-eight, is a registered nurse. He married Martha in Vir- 
ginia in June 1999; they met when she was a trainer at the correctional facility 
where he worked. He has become the stepfather of her two grown daughters. 

All his life, Chip has attended Baptist Church services regularly, at least every 
other Sunday. He considers himself a moral and spiritual person, even after his in- 
volvement in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Before going to Iraq, he attended the local 
community college and went on to take courses at Allegheny College in Maryland 
but did not finish his degree. He was an average-C student, never failed a course, 
and liked to learn new skills. Chip, however, is more ajock than an intellectual; he 
played basketball, baseball, football, and soccer in high school. As an adult, he 


The Lucifer Effect 

continued to play Softball as a left fielder, hitting for a good average rather than 
distance. His main hobbies are hunting and fishing. He is also a "people person" 
who has a great many close longtime friends with whom he has stayed in touch 
over the years. He is very close to these friends, who are, he said, the kind of peo- 
ple "that you would die for." Chip indicated that he also has close relations with 
his niece and nephew. In general, he is a family man; he counts on his family, and 
they have always been able to count on him. He loves his wife, Martha, whom he 
describes as "perfect" and a "very strong woman," and he loves her daughters "as 
if they were my own." 

Chip is in good health and is physically fit. He has never had surgery, psycho- 
logical counseling, or medication for mental problems. His only run-in with the 
law came when he was nineteen as a "disturbing the peace" arrest that carried a 
fine of S 5 .00, which he received for hollering too loud and long at a night game of 
"hide-and-seek." He rarely smokes, drinks only a few beers a week, and has never 
used illegal drugs. 

Chip describes himself in the following way: "very quiet, sometimes shy, 
down to earth, softhearted, very agreeable, an overall good person." 2 " However, it 
is important for us to note some additional self-descriptions: Chip usually fears 
being rejected by others, and so, in any disagreement, he often gives way in order 
to be accepted: he changes his mind to accommodate others so that they will not 
be "mad at me or hate me." Others can influence him even when he believes that 
he has made up his mind. He does not like to be alone: he likes to be around oth- 
ers, and he becomes depressed when he is alone for any length of time. 

Some of my research on shyness provides empirical support for this shyness- 
conformity link. We have found that shy college students were likely to give in to 
and agree with others whose opinions were discrepant from their own when they 
believed they might have to defend their point of view openly, whereas they did 
not conform when they did not have to fear a public confrontation." 

The man is superpatriotic — every day he flies the American flag in his front 
yard and takes it down at sunset. He gives the flag as a gift to friends and family. "I 
bought several flags to give to family, my place of business, and I flew them in 
Kuwait, every one of them. I think I had nine or ten, I flew them when I was in 
Baghdad, and I'd send them to my wife," he said during our interview. Chip Fred- 
erick gets "goose bumps" and "teary-eyed" when he hears the National Anthem. 
He wrote to me recently from his prison cell, "I am proud to say that I served most 
of my adult life for my country. I was very prepared to die for my country, my 
family and friends. ... I wanted to be the one to make a difference."" (I must 
admit that such feelings seem a bit over the top to someone with my more cau- 
tious brand of patriotism.) 

His sister, Mimi, has this to say about her kid brother: 

Growing up with Chip was a delight for me. I am 3 months shy of being 1 1 
years older than he is. Chip was a quiet person. He was considerate of his 

Abu Ghraib's Abuses and Tortures 


peers. Chip always was thoughtful of others' feelings and was never a 
vengeful type person. Chip was ornery and liked practical jokes. He would 
always feed the dog peanut butter and would laugh so hard he would be on 
the ground rolling! Chip played sports and was a team player. His philoso- 
phy of life is fairness, and he still has a strong belief in that, responsibility 
and accountability, he was taught good morals and values by our parents. 
I remember watching him go off to the army at the young age of 17, just a 
kid, only to return a young man all grown up and demonstrating these 
same skills that he values so much. Chip likes to hunt and fish in his spare 
time. He enjoys sports, NASCAR, motorcycling and spending time with his 

Frederick's Corrections and Army Service Record 

Before being activated for duty in Iraq. Chip Frederick worked as a correctional offi- 
cer in a small, medium-security prison, the Buckingham Correctional Center, in 
Dillwyn, Virginia, for five years from December 1996. He was a floor officer in 
charge of supervising 60 to 120 inmates at any given time. While he was in institu- 
tional training, he met Martha, who was his trainer. The only blemish on his record 
is a reprimand he received for once wearing the wrong uniform. However, that is 
balanced by a citation he received for preventing an inmate's suicide. Before becom- 
ing a correctional officer, Frederick worked making eyeglasses at Bausch & Lomb. 


The Lucifer Effect 

I was able to review many of his performance evaluations, which had been 
conducted annually by the Virginia Department of Corrections. A summary of 
key observations by various evaluating officers provides a sense of how well Chip 
progressed through probationary training to become a corrections officer. He 
typically exceeded expectations on almost all specific performance dimensions. 

"C/O Frederick has been proficient in performing this [sic] assigned duties for 
this probationary period. Has met all established performance standards." "Offi- 
cer Frederick shows initiative and does a very goodjob." (April 1997) 

One negative blemish on his performance record with the Virginia Depart- 
ment of Corrections reads: "Employee needs to be more consistent on post assign- 
ments and enforce standing counts." (November 1997) 

On all other six dimensions, he is rated as "Meets expectations" but as only 
"Fair, but needs improvement" on the dimension of initiating and completing 
count procedures. (Recall the count procedure ordeal of the SPE?) 

Otherwise, the comments are uniformly positive: "He is a very good officer 
and shows leadership abilities." "His appearance exceeds expectations." (Novem- 
ber 199 8) (This was also true of his handling keys and equipment. All the rest of 
the dimensions "meet expectations.") 

"Officer Frederick meets all criteria and has the potential to be an excellent of- 
ficer." "Officer Frederick does an excellent job in controlling the custody, control, 
and safety of inmates. " "Officer Frederick is always neat and clean, shoes polished 
and appears that he takes pride in his uniform." (November 1999) 

"Officer Frederick operates and maintains post in a safe, secure and clean 
manner. When assigned to special housing he keeps his area clean and prepared 
for inspections." "Officer Frederick is always dressed properly for his shift assign- 
ment. He maintains his professional appearance." "He works well with both his 
co-workers and inmates. He has a thorough knowledge of the work to be done 
and established policies and procedures. He has no problem assisting others in 
completing theirjob assignments." (October 2000) 

Overall, these evaluations are increasingly positive up to the point that Chip 
Frederick's performance "exceeds expectations." However, it is instructive to note 
a key conclusion in one of these final reports: "There were no factors beyond the 
employee's control which affected his performance." It is important to keep this in 
mind precisely because I will argue that "situational factors beyond his control" 
did undermine his performance at Abu Ghraib. 

In the final evaluations of Frederick, in May 2001, his ratings were high: "Of- 
ficer Frederick does a very goodjob as the floor officer. He communicates well with 
the inmates in his area and on the strike force." "Officer Frederick displays a high 
standard of professional conduct and appearance." "Officer Frederick does a very 
goodjob enforcing all written policies." "Officer Frederick does a very goodjob 
taking counts." 

It is obvious that Chip F